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Album Review

Ska Saxophonist David Hillyard earned his keep, and his debut release, as a player-for-hire for Rancid and bands on their Hellcat imprint, such as the Slackers. This primarily instrumental album is an entertaining and affectionate blend of ska and early American jazz strains. Like most of the ska groups on Hellcat Records, Hillyard keeps the ornamentation down to a minimum and focuses on the horns; Playtime could be backup tracks for a Desmond Dekker or Prince Buster session rather than a blueprint for late '90s punk/ska. Strangely, Hillyard maintains a Ry Cooder-esque objectivity toward the music, which celebrates his integrity, but also places a cap on his lineup's talents. You wish for more moments like "Father and Son," a circular instrumental whose controlled horn section serves as background for a furious drumming performance by Eddie Ocampo. Hillyard gives ska a compositional depth you don't see in a lot of his contemporaries, especially in the Ellington-esque horn breaks in the title track and an off-kilter cover of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Playtime might let reverence get in the way a few times too many, but it's also an encouraging example of how ska can box itself out of its stylistic corner.

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Playtime, David Hillyard & The Rocksteady Seven
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