Real Cool: The Jamaican King of the Saxophone '66-'77
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Tenor saxophone player Tommy McCook was a pivotal member of Jamaica's legendary Skatalites in the mid-'60s, a band that, although they were together for only 14 months, completely defined the instrumental template for ska, mixing in big band jazz sensibilities with Latin and samba rhythms and buru drumming to create the first of Jamaica's many distinct pop styles. But McCook's influence on the island's music doesn't end with the disbanding of the Skatalites in 1965. He moved quickly on to Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio, where he assembled the the Supersonics, a session band that had a big hand in slowing down ska and morphing it into Jamaica's next rhythmic phase, rocksteady, which is where this two-disc anthology picks up the story in 1966. Membership in the Supersonics, as with most of the island's studio aggregations, was loose and fluid, but generally included guitarists Lyn Taitt and Ernest Ranglin, organists Winston Wright and Neville Hinds, pianist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson, drummers Hugh Malcolm and Arkland "Drumbago" Parks, bassist Clifton Jackson, plus the best horn men the island had to offer, all led by McCook on tenor sax (and sometimes flute). As the slower, cooler rhythms of rocksteady took hold, McCook, always a gifted arranger, was able to take full advantage of the musicians at his disposal, and crafted soulful and jazzy backdrops to the countless vocal rocksteady hits that issued from Treasure Isle. Reid eventually realized the stand-alone value of these backing tracks, and most of the first disc of Real Cool is made up of them (the disc kicks off with a couple of manic Caltone ska cuts before giving way to rocksteady), including the title track, "Real Cool," "Soul Serenade," "Second Fiddle," the moody (and unlikely) "Ode to Billy Joe," and the delightfully jazzy "Ranglin on Bond Street." The Jamaican music scene has always been a restless one, and McCook and company moved on in the mid-'70s to work with other producers, most notably Bunny Lee, whose dub-influenced cuts are featured on the second disc of this anthology, along with occasional sides produced by Winston Niney Holness ("Palm 9 to Keep in Mind"), Alvin Ranglin (the funky "Bad Cow Skank") and Lee "Scratch" Perry ("Cloak and Dagger"). As such, the second disc probably is the stronger of the two, with light-as-air jazz-dub selections like "The Right Track" drifting by in the eerie, druggy spirit of the times. Through it all there is McCook's steady sax work, thick and solid, but never willfully intrusive, and his remarkably versatile arrangements, which would go on to be re-versioned repeatedly. Real Cool makes a perfect compliment to Trojan's Skatalites & Friends, which could be viewed as the ska prequel to this set. Together these two generous compilations pay tribute to the handful of brilliant jazz musicians who orchestrated the rhythms and the feel of Jamaica's greatest pop era.
COOL AS CAN BE!
IF YOU DON'T KNOW TOMMY.........BUY THIS COLLECTION, AND YOU TOO CAN BE COOL!!!!
Born: March 3, 1927 in Jamaica
Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s
Top Albums and Songs by Tommy McCook
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