THE SKATALITES - Stretching Out (1983)

THE SKATALITES - Stretching Out [ROIR 1983]

1. Freedom Sounds
2. Bridge View
3. Latin Goes Ska
4. Tear Up - (with Cedric Brooks)
5. Guns Of Navarone
6. Man In The Street
7. Come Dung
8. Big Trombone
9. Ska Ba
10. Road Block
11. Eastern Standard Time
12. Confucius

1. Lee Harvey Oswald
2. Black Sunday
3. Mood For Ska
4. Fidel Castro (#1)
5. El Pussy Cat
6. Four Corners
7. Exodus
8. Old Fowl
9. Fidel Castro (#2)
10. Welcome Back Home

ROIR Records had re-released some excellent live and historic Skatalites music on CD, LP, and digital download, which was previously only available on cassette.  Stretching Out, from 1983, is historically significant because it is from the year when the band had just reconciled the differences that had driven their 2-year career apart in 1965.  Peter Tosh’s manager, Herbie Miller tracked them all down to play at the 1983 Jamaica Sunplash.  Prior to the big gig, the band got together for some rehearsal nightclub gigs at Miller’s Blue Monk Jazz Gallery in Kingston before a crowd of local fans, friends, and fellow musicians.  There were no restrictions on the length of their sets, no barriers on soloing, and no boundaries in general… which led to a stretched out, spontaneously joyful Ska reunion.

You can feel the small-room vibe of the club in the recordings and you can almost smell the ganga smoke and feel the heat and the sweat created by those in attendance, who were most likely moved by the endless backbeat skank to dance the night away.  The Skatalites are a large group of players (9 of them, with 3 guests) whose playing is as smooth as cocoa butter over the 2 hours.  There never seems to be any confusion as to who is soloing and when the band comes back in; this is a group of musicians who fully support each other.  And the results make it all sound so easy, as the best musicians do.  The band cooks its way through classics like “Guns of Navarone”, “Confucius”, and “Lee Harvey Oswald” and flow like melting moonlight over stretched out numbers like “Black Sunday” and “Ska Ba”.

The Skatalites horn blowers are stunning throughout. They were clearly inspired by the bebop players (like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker) and the musical freedom and boundary-bursting those players pioneered.  And the Skatalites, in turn, helped pioneer the sound that would later morph into rock steady and reggae.  Unfortunately, all but one (Lester Sterling-alto sax, who still blows with the band) of that original horn section has joined that big band in the sky, with the passing of Johnny “Dizzy” Moore in August of this year.  But the music certainly lives on and the live music on Stretching Out is just about as lively as it gets!

Sometime after the terrific U.K. ska revival exploded in Britain, led by the revered Specials,English Beat, Selecter, Bodysnatchers, Bad Manners, and (early) Madness, these 1963-1965 Jamaican founding fathers came back for a well-deserved bow. Reuniting eight out of their nine members (the other was deceased), with several flying in from the U.S. and England, the one and only good-time instrumental band, the Skatalites, returned in 1983 to the Kingston streets where they'd helped found the genre. Caught live at the Blue Monk Jazz Gallery during this brief reunion, ROIR's cassette-only release in 1986 was a happy pleasure. Now here 'tis on CD, with five songs from the same July 17, 1983, show added for good measure, necessitating two discs. This is how fans and historians like it: complete and lively. Pre-reggae Jamaican ska was much faster, peppier, and danceable, and the standard-issue, thrilling, clipped R&B horns ensured an upbeat flavor at all times. Additionally, with their lead-part jazz-styled horn solos anchored on the rocksteady groove and long, hypnotic, and festive jams, the Skatalites were and are guaranteed to spice up any blue mood, and "Freedom Sounds" and "Guns of Navarone" retain the original bounce and a smile that music can't often manage without pretense. A few more Skatalites have also sadly died, and another has retired after triple-bypass heart surgery, meaning 1983 was everyone's last chance for the original (making Stretching Out doubly documentary). However, music this positive, played this well, will never die. (All Music)