Keyboardist Jackie Mittoo is a truly seminal reggae figure. During the mid-'60s, as an original member of the Skatalites, Mittoo helped shape the language of the newly emerging ska. In subsequent years, as the premier composer/arranger of Clement Dodd's Studio One team, Mittoo created a wealth of rhythms that artists would return to during the dancehall and ragga eras decades later. His simmering organ lines added leagues of depth behind Dodd's greatest acts, including Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, and the Heptones. By the time Universal Sound released The Keyboard King at Studio One, there were far too few releases in print representing this reggae great. Though Heartbeat's Tribute to Jackie Mittoo may be the obvious primer, this disc is the perfect complement. Drawing heavily from the late '60s/early '70s when Mittoo was fronting a variety of Studio One session bands, Keyboard King selects cuts from Mittoo solo albums like Keep on Dancing (1969), Jackie Mittoo Now (1970), and Macka Fat (1971). Chronological concerns are dispensed with (at one point the collection jumps nearly two decades with one track), and yet Universal Sound manages to come up with a coherent portrait of the artist. "Killer Diller," the earliest cut, is a steaming ska platter from the mid-'60s, while "Black Organ" finds Mittoo musing over a smoky, chugging reggae beat. Though Mittoo clearly had a handle on any reggae rhythm that crossed his path, cuts like "Get Up and Get It" and "Stereo Freeze" prove that he was fluent in funk as well. Even the songs from Showcase, his final outing from 1982, maintain the standards of the vintage material. The interwoven lines of Mittoo and keyboardist Pablove Black on the drifting "Oboe" are a particularly pleasant surprise. The Keyboard King at Studio One is an excellent introduction to a rhythm master and reggae legend.
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AllMusic Review by Nathan Bush