Stretching Out (Reachout International Records)
By: Alex Steininger
Eighteen years after breaking up, the founding fathers of ska regrouped to perform in front of a very appreciative audience at the Blue Monk Jazz Gallery in the summer of 1983. Originally released as a cassette only album on Roir Records out of New York, and then for a short time as a vinyl only import, Roir decided to re-release this crucial album with five bonus tracks. That re-release is this double CD set. With over two hours of the Skatalites best songs, recorded during their four night stint at the Blue Monk, this album is a definite must for any fan of the Skatalites, or any Jamaican sounds for that matter. Including a great two page detailed outline of the Skatalites career, this CD serves up music and history all in one nice little package.
Starting out with "Freedom Sounds," this CD gives you the beautiful melodies of the Skatalites live. Even after eighteen years since the original break-up, these guys are still able to cook. Their splendid musicianship is displayed in full force on this CD, bringing out parts of the music which seem to have a life of their own. The horns are a vital part of this process, dominating every song with powerful bursts of sunshine, flavorful solos, and long lasting notes that let the listener dream and fantasize while the horns work their way through the listener and bring them a feeling of euphoria. And if some of the strongest horn lines you've ever heard aren't enough, the rhythm section is as tight as possible, playing together nicely with everyone with such ease and free spirit, it feels as if these guys were born to work and compose together. Also, the guitar serves up a nice upbeat which will do its work on your feet and get you moving. Sometimes over powered by the horns, the guitar still remains constant throughout and keeps you moving. And topping everything off is the addition of the piano on a handful of numbers, including an amazing job on "El Pussy Cat." Sizzling through notes, the piano helps add an even more sensational flavor to the music, and helps keep the songs blistering hot. Every musician is at the top of their game, and together they play some of the most amazing ska you'll ever hear. And with a band this energetic and amazing, hearing them live adds a whole new dimension to their music as they bring every note to life and give them their own characteristics. What's more is they play some of their most memorable numbers including "Latin Goes Ska," "Man In The Street," "Ska Ba," "Eastern Standard Time," and a tribute song to the late Don Drummond, "Big Trombone." And that's just disc one! Disc two brings more classic tracks such as "Lee Harvey Oswald," "Mood For Ska," and "Welcome Back Home," featuring Doreen Shaffer on vocals, one of the five bonus tracks found on disc two which were not available on the original release. Expanding on the studio recordings, these CDs display the band outside of the studio, and give them the audience's energy to feed off of, capturing them in their natural habitat, LIVE! Giving them breathing room, they let it all flow during their four night stint at the Blue Monk, taking each solo farther and farther, and pumping new life into already lively music. Just as the title suggests, this disc catches them STRETCHING OUT. Starting a solo and just continuing on while the fans listened in amazement, they take the music they had already pioneered and breath yet more life and enjoyment into it. Amazing horns lead the way, yet the rest of the band also has tremendous say in the music. The drums, bass, guitar, and the keyboard all help spice the flavor up and bring you music that will be remembered forever!
With the following statement on the back of the two page CD booklet, I began to worry how this disc might sound: "Both recordings were done under technically difficult conditions. Here's hoping that these shortcomings will be overlooked for its aesthetic qualities." That comment scared me a bit, but then I listened to both discs and started to wonder what they were talking about. The quality wasn't that bad at all. Listening to the CD set a few more times, I finally came to the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with the sound quality, and on a whole, this was a great recording for a live show. The music was amazing, so no sound recording could do it justice (unless your ears hear them live in the flesh), but for what they got and the equipment they used, the end result was exceptional. With a nice recording, lots of hot grooves, and over two hours of music, this disc will find a very special place in every ska fans collection. I'll give it an A+.
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