Jazz bass-ics from Gary Crosby´s ska specialists
Like father, like son, as the British say. A shame then that the familial relationship between bassist Gary Crosby and legendary Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin is actually that of nephew and uncle. It was jazz guitarist Ranglin who developed the hybrid known as Jamaica-jazz, and his nephew Crosby is flying the extended family pennant.
Following in his uncle´s giant footprints, at least musically speaking, Crosby is committed to the hybrid genre which rejoices in the ghastly name of ´skazz´. Doubtless invented by a lazy journalist after a liquid lunch, the coinage denotes a cross-fertilisation between ska and jazz.
Musically speaking, ‘skazz’ is as marvellous as its generic name is horrible. Crosby’s creation observes the technical excellence defined by Mr. Ranglin but extends the design plan to include ska and Motown in the template. Crosby decided to fuse the improvisation of jazz with the Jamaican music he discovered as a child and, in 1991, formed the first edition of Jamaica Jazz in the UK. Unlike other ska revival bands, Jazz Jamaica use the original ska platform as a basis upon which to create and develop rather than reproduce. The inclusion of a vibraphonist, for example, is hardly a given in ska, yet makes perfectly logical sense in the Jazz Jamaica context.
Crosby later expanded the line-up to a ‘big band’, inviting some top name contributors like Andy Sheppard, Juliet Roberts and Annie Whitehead as guest soloists. The big band, known as Jazz Jamaica All Stars, is a 20-piece, but for obvious reasons only comes out when the fiscal conditions are right. In recent years, Jazz Jamaica has developed into a breeding house for young British jazz musicians, which has the side effect of enabling the band to broaden their take on the musical areas addressed in their work.
Expanding their hybrid horizons ever further, they released ‘Motorcity Roots’ in 2005, an imaginative re-working of Motown songs given the ska/jazz treatment – a largely successful effort. Their intensely ‘musical’ take on what were initially rather basic compositions is most effective on the Motown covers, some of which are still retained in the band’s live set. Their version of ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, by way of example, features ingenious chord extensions which belie the song’s origins in the industrial Detroit of the 60s – there were certainly no major 7ths in the Supremes’ original. Nor is the musical book of the band restricted to the West Indies, encompassing Herbie Hancock with the evergreen ‘Dolphin Dance’ and Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ as well as US home grown-classics from the Sixties and early Seventies.
Despite being based in the cold and wet UK, their appeal extends back to their spiritual homeland. When they performed at the Caribbean St. Lucia Jazz Festival in 1994, headliner George Benson was forced to wait impatiently in the wings as Jazz Jamaica performed encore after encore. And their appeal becomes increasingly more international – their first major record deal was with a Japanese label, and the first Japanese release featured such name jazz musicians as Courtney Pine and Cleveland Watkiss.
Jazz Jamaica won the category of Best Band in the BBC Jazz Awards in 2002. Leader Gary Crosby also fronts the jazz ensemble Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop, who demonstrated their ‘skazz’ skills with a version of the Police’s ‘Wrapped Around Your finger’ to a 1997 tribute album to that band. Police again were themselves accused of shamelessly filching West Indian sources for their trademark ‘white reggae’. All things must pass, as Beatle George remarked.
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