Tommy McCook

Reggae in Jazz

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Although Reggae in Jazz was attributed to Tommy McCook when it was originally released as an LP in 1976 on Dennis Harris' Eve Records imprint, it was never truly a McCook album. A tenor saxophone player, McCook was a pivotal member of Jamaica's legendary Skatalites in the mid-'60s, a band that, although they were together for only 14 months, completely defined the instrumental template for ska, mixing in big-band jazz sensibilities with Latin and samba rhythms and buru drumming to create the first of Jamaica's many distinct pop styles. McCook next assembled the Supersonics when the Skatalites disbanded in 1965, an equally influential session band that had a big hand in slowing down ska and morphing it into Jamaica's next rhythmic phase, rocksteady. During the early '70s McCook worked with a variety of Jamaican producers, including Stanley "Buster" Riley, the younger brother of famed island producer Winston Riley. The younger Riley is the one who assembled Reggae in Jazz, bringing in previously recorded rhythms, many from his brother, and tracked McCook's sax over maybe a half dozen of them. The rest of the LP's tracks were cobbled together from organ instrumentals, melodica pieces, and whatever other interesting flotsam Riley had at hand. The result was hardly jazz but it was very, very Jamaican, with strong and chugging rocksteady rhythms, and while McCook does take a few horn turns here and there, it was hardly his album, being, truthfully, a showcase for what Buster Riley could do as a producer. There's a wild, loose, and edgy feel to the album, and it's full of those odd, eerie instrumental gems that Jamaican producers are famous for, including, in the case here, the opener "Grass Root," which features ensemble horn lines, the delightfully woozy and relentless "Wild Bunch," and the two-part organ instrumental "Collin." Again, it isn't jazz, but it is something else again.

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