Carlos Malcolm

Ska-Mania: The Sound of the Soil

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So legendary have the Skatalites become that over the years every other one of their contemporaries have virtually faded into oblivion. Certainly, all of the Skatalites deserve their glowing reputations, but there were many other groups equally crucial to the formation of the island's music scene, and they deserve recognition. This includes Carlos Malcolm & His Afro-Jamaican Rhythms. The Panamanian-born Malcolm first came to prominence in 1959, when he was hired as the band arranger for the Jamaican Broadcasting Corporation. An equally talented composer and skilled trombonist, Malcolm formed the Afro-Jamaican Rhythms in 1962, and set about thrilling Kingstonian audiences with their unique take on ska, easily grabbing the Best Band award from the island's national Daily Gleaner newspaper. Ska-Mania was the group's second album, overseen by Malcolm himself, and engineered by Graeme Goodall. Featuring such recent singles as "Skarmaouche," "Wings of a Dove," and "Hopalong Kassidy," this reissue also tosses in the title track from their first set, "Bonanza Ska," today the group's best-remembered number. But the song that best sums up their intent is "Skamania," led by Winston Turner's exhilarating, dizzying trumpet blasts. This stunning, nearly six-minute medley exuberantly melds together mento faves, beautifully tying together that indigenous style with the new ska sound that had swept the island. As keen as Malcolm was to incorporate Jamaican folk music into the band's own repertoire, he was equally eager to blend in jazz, R&B, Spanish stylings, and Afro-Cuban rhythms with the group's covers ranging as far afield as the hymnal "Wings of a Dove" to classical (Rossini in the case of "Bonanza Ska"). Check out the inspired "Hunchback No. 1," where jazz slams straight into R&B and rocks right into ska, "Tip Toe" through cool, sophisticated Latin-spiced fields, or bossa nova along with the skanking "Sweet Charlie," swing with the big band sound of "Run for Cover," or fly away on the ska-themic "Dove." Like the Skatalites, many of the Afro-Jamaicans were also graduates of the Alpha Boys School, signalled by their phenomenal musicianship. And with no disrespect to the late Tommy McCook and Co., the Rhythms were a much tighter unit, with smaller egos, so one never hears the kind of jostling for attention that fired the Skatalites' number. This was ultimately due to Malcolm's superb arrangements, in which every instrument was seen as crucial to the sound, and thus treated with equal dignity and respect. A phenomenal album from one of the island's greatest groups, one that has remained in the shadows for far too long.

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