Jazz Jamaica Allstars

Double Barrel

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Even here on their second disc, right from the opening, echoed vocal set intro Jazz Jamaica Allstars comes across as a U.K. attempt to capitalize on Skatalites-mania. Clifton "Bigga" Morrison, Michael "Bammie" Rose and Eddie "Tan Tan" Thornton are familiar names from Steel Pulse and/or Aswad credits, so there are some credible musicians here -- but not the magic groove thing that the Lloyd Knibbs/Lloyd Brevett rhythm section still gives the Jamaican originators. Nothing against the guys in Jazz Jamaica Allstars trying to make some money, but Double Barrel is just so blandly professional. Play the ensemble melodies, take the appropriate quota of tasteful solos in the right spots, groove proficiently enough so the listener's foot taps reflexively, and leave it at that. It's all playing to a formula, right down to mixing golden-era ska classics ("Confucious," "Shank-Kai-Chek," "Theme From Exodus") with '60s reggae (title track, "Monkey Man") and pop hits with wide boomer appeal ("Walk on By," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"). The only intriguing touch is the choice of Charlie Parker, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock pieces that make explicit ska's connection to bebop and Blue Note jazz. It's probably no accident that the challenge of tackling Hancock's "Butterfly" carries over to Don Drummond's "Marcus Junior," the most animated performance of the Jamaican material. Or that the fragmented melody to Shorter's "Night Dreamer" gets taken off on enough interesting tangents over a mutated reggae skank that it feels premature when cut off after three-and-a-half minutes. But that's all, folks -- nothing transports or stretches you, nothing here but perfectly well-performed music that really has no reason to exist. Nothing to write home about and better to spend your time and/or money tracking down historical Jamaican recordings from the '60s by the Skatalites and/or individual members like Drummond.

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