Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Ska Me Crazy: The Best of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

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Formed in 1985 by a group of high-school friends, the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra have been thrilling their native Japan with their fabulous blend of ska-fired music for 20 years now. For most of that time their numerous releases went unnoticed abroad, but in the last few years that has begun to change, as the group undertook tours of Europe (video footage of their storming finale at the Eurockeénnes Festival is included) and more recently the U.S. And thus the time is more than ripe to finally introduce Western fans to their recordings. Ska Me Crazy: The Best Of bundles up 15 numbers off their previous three albums (they have seven earlier ones to date as well), along with a track pulled from the band's own Justa Record label various-artists compilation. The sleeve notes blithely skip through the group's history, and even the discography omits any mention of their pre-1998 albums, which leaves newcomers to wonder just how the group evolved into the eclectic, accomplished aggregate it is today. Surprisingly, considering the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's origin, the only musical nod to their homeland comes in a blink that you could easily miss on "Theme from Enter the Dragon," and bar the occasional Japanese-accented vocals, the Orchestra would slot nicely into the music scene on the other side of the Pacific. As with a number of California third wave bands, the Tokyo group owes equal debt to both the energy of 2 Tone and the jazzy stylings of the Skatalites, with the group expanding its own sound from there -- the Latin airs of the Supersonics are also evident, as is the surf-splashed styling of guitarist Ernest Ranglin. Ska may be the heart and soul of their music, but they are equally adept at reggae (the loose-limbed "Natty Parade" is a sheer delight), big-band swing (the frenetic "[We Know It's] All or Nothing" rocks the rafters), jazz-laced romance (the silky-smooth "Lovers' Walk"), easygoing sophistication ("Call from Rio"), and even dub (the echoing intro of "Skull Collector"). It's numbers like these that best showcase the group's exceptional musicianship, but it's the knees-up skankers that send the skins and checkerboarded crowds into a frenzy, and the album is stuffed with a multitude of these as well, with the R&B-doused "Howlin' Wolves," anthemic "Down Beat Stomp," and exuberant live title track guaranteed to send you into a dancing frenzy. One listen to this dizzying display of music and the live performances captured on the two video tracks will make you an instant fan, as well as rue living on this side of the globe.

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