Jamaican Jazz Journeying - Aketi Ray Inspirations And Connections

For the last few years I've been plugging away on a new musical project which has finally come to fruition in the form of an all-acoustic dub-jazz group called Aketi Ray....double bass, drums, upright piano, horns, percussion, reverb and delay. We play compositions grounded in the instrumental music of  Jamaica - ska, rocksteady, reggae, rockers, dub - but drawing inspiration and influence from Ethiopian and US jazz, west African percussion traditions, all served up with the mind set of UK steppas........Kingston to Chicago to Addis Ababa to Dakar to London. 

After much work in the background we have an album recorded, lined-up and ready to launch in 2018, with a 12 inch release already out and 6-track vinyl-only album sampler dropping November 18th 2017. Check www.aketiray.com for all the details on those.

The mix below is a journey into the music that's influenced the Aketi Ray sound...mainly looking at those moments where Jamaican music and jazz brush up together, as well as a couple of tracks just a step removed, but influential to us. All part of the journey. Oh, and a couple of sneak previews of forthcoming Aketi Ray tracks! Have written a couple of words about each track too.....

(Big up Jazz Meet for sharing this mix on their always excellent podcast)

Jamaican Jazz Journeying // Aketi Ray Inspirations And Connections

1. Tambu - Friendship Group of Trelawny [0.00]
Starting things off with three percussion-heavy tracks, this one coming from deep in the JA countryside, a minute-long early recording of a session played on tambu drums - supposedly unique to the Trelawny area of Jamaica. 

2. Occupation - Cedric Brooks & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari [1.03]
One of the many alumni of the Alpha Boys School, which taught so many of Jamaica best players, Cedric's fusing of jazz and pure Rasta music has little parallel. This cut has him leading on sax over a nyabinghi rhythm.

3. Earth Sound - Ernest Ranglin [3.32]
Ernest's legacy in pushing Jamaican music in all kinds of interesting directions is second-to-none. This recording is less about showing off his great guitar playing as it is exploring what can happen when Jamaican jazz meets Jamaican drumming. 

4. Last Call - Don Drummond [5.59]
Moving into three killer ska tracks back to back, with Don Drummond leading the Skatalites in this classic piece. The Skatalites perhaps more than anyone deserve credit for cementing the role of jazz playing within JA's dancehall music, and then taking that sound worldwide. 

5. Hey Train - Buster All Stars [9.04]
For all the credit that the Skatalites get, Prince Buster's house band were just as firing, with a line-up that included the likes of Ernest Ranglin and Rico Rodriguez. 

6. Cleopatra - Roland Alphonso & The Studio One Orchestra [11.39]
One final golden era ska foot-stomper, Roland Alphonso leading on sax on what you could even call a proto-ethio-skajazz workout, if you really wanted! The Studio One Orchestra effectively the Skatalites without Don Drummond..

7. Barbados - Jazz Jamaica [14.18]
Keeping it ska but bringing it to London three decades later, Jazz Jamaica are a group started in the early 90s by the double-bassist Gary Crosby (who happens to be nephew of Ernest Ranglin), which set out to do big-band style jazz arrangements of ska tunes, as well as ska up some jazz standards. Amazing band to see live if you ever get the chance. This recording features the late great Rico Rodriguez on trumpet. 

8. Regulator {live} - Monty Alexander [18.10]
Kingston-born but US resident pianist Monty Alexander has been mixing up JA and US traditions in jazz for decades. I’ve never had the pleasure to hear him play live, but if this firing recording is anything to go by it sounds like a show not to miss. Bad tune.

9. Many Pauses {live} - Jazz Warriors [22.27]
Jazz Warriors were a London-based group which launched the careers of a generation of young musicians on to the scene - one of which was trumpeter Kevin Robinson, who plays extensively on our Aketi Ray LP. They released just one album, the landmark 1987 live recording Out of Many, One People (Jamaica's national motto). The piece of music included here is just a short extract from a much longer, constantly-changing track, Many Pauses, and features jazz vocalist and occasional D&B MC Cleveland Watkiss on scat parts.

10. This Day – Rico [24.28]
Journeying back to the 70s for three pieces from the roots era, starting with this classic cut from trombonist Rico Rodriquez. Moving to London in the 70s Rico played a big role in building the bridge between JA and UK music, both with his own compositions as well as playing an active part on the 2-tone scene. The album this cut comes from, The Man From Wareika, is a Jazz Reggae cornerstone.

11.Cuts and Bruises - Pablove Black [28.33]
Killer melodica piece from multi-instrumentalist Pablove Black. When it comes to great reggae melodica instrumentals August Pablo surely wears the crown and takes credit for adding the instrument to the reggae canon, but this cut here from Pablove is perfection – hard pressed to think of another time a melodica sounded so good.

12. Return of the Super Ape - Lee Perry [32.00]
In interviews Lee Perry often cites jazz as the music that inspires him the most, and even when his music doesn't have the solos of jazz, it so often has the experimental, rule breaking, attitude. In this cut it does both. Amazing record - pure inspiration into what can be done.

13. The Breadwinner - The Breadwinners [35.31]
As far as I'm concerned there is only one person out there who has carried on the works of Lee Perry at the Black Ark faithfully, and thats Al and the Breadwinners camp out of Manchester, England. I especially love their instrumental tracks, often featuring Sally on all horn and wind parts. Really recommend checking their back catalogue. Sublime.

14. Dub Me Tender - Dub Colossus [37.46]
Keeping it in the UK with Nick Page and his Dub Colossus band, who made a name for themselves for the dub records they recorded in a small flat in Addis Ababa that fused dub traditions with Ethiopian music. This one is a completely stripped-back, drum-free affair, that has a wisp of Ethiopia as well as a touch of US free jazz about it.

15. Ephemeral - Aketi Ray [41.35]
One last one from the UK, this one from us, the opening track from the forthcoming Aketi Ray LP 'From Ever Since'. Dubwise, flying cymbal rhythm, led by the wonderful sax playing of Nico Rouger, and backed by Kevin Robinson on ghost-trumpet!

16. Blood of Africa - Natty Locks & King Tubby [46.04]
Going on into three more sax led cuts here, the first a massive tune to me personally - the opening track from the first dub LP I ever heard, Tubby meets Perry at the Grass Roots. Always takes me back this track...

17. Man A Lion - Disciples Riddim Section meets Digistep [48.41]
Moving to 21st Century London with this great digi cut - modern roots from the UK at its best. Big up Kullar and the Roots Youths crew.

18. Roots Version Wise - Sky Nation [52.10]
Back to 70s JA with this powerful percussion and horn section roots work out.

19. Proverbs Dub - Wareika Hill Sounds [55.36]
Wareika Hill Sounds is a really great modern project, led I gather by Calvin “Bubbles” Cameron of Count Ossie’s Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari and The Light Of Saba fame. All the material they've put out has come out on Honest Jon's label so I expect there's a key London connection to this. Its new music but taps spirits of the past, without feeling in any way dated.

20. Distant Drums Version - Family Man & Knotty Roots [59.15]
Moving into three tracks back to back here with some heavy, conscious vibes, this weighty drum and horns piece is a dub of Vivian Jackson and The Defenders  Love Thy Neighbour, and credited to legendary bass player and co-producer player Aston Barrett.

21. Jah Irror - Jah Bast & The Shades [62.31]
One of my favourite records from recent years, perhaps surprisingly, out of Switzerland - going to show there are no borders in music! Lovely playing on all their cuts, but I particularly like the message on this one (the one vocal track on this mix), and its a message that is shared with the next track.... 

22. Mirror - Aketi Ray [65.44]
The second Aketi Ray track featured, and yeah, like the track before, this ones all about reflection and knowledge of self! This one is coming out on a 12inch on Steppas Records - look out for a video too! Should find it on the Aketi Ray website / youtube.

23. Nuh True - Ernest Ranglin [69.41]
Turning a corner here with a track from an Ernest Ranglin album he recorded in Senegal with Baba Maal's firing band. Its a beautiful record, effortlessly fusing his Jamaican sound with that of these Senegalese greats. Its the use of percussion that's been  particularly influential on the Aketi Ray sound.

24. Né la Thiass - Cheikh Lô [75.52]
While we're in Senegal I need to play one more - 
Cheikh Lô himself fuses music from all over... I find this one particularly beautiful, and can't get enough of the talking drum on this. 

25. Mulatu - Mulatu Astatke [80.37]
The Ethio-jazz sound is a big influence, and Aketi Ray's sax player Nico Rouger plays in two Ethio jazz acts, Addis Quartet and Krar Collective. We've definitely tried to bring some of Mulatu's flavour to the music we're making.

26. Jericho Jazz - Roy Burrowes, Clifford Jordan, Charles Davis [85.34]
Back to JA, and maybe even carrying over a bit of that Ethio flavour, a wonderful jazzed-up version of the classic Studio One Jericho Rock rhythm. The album this comes off, Reggae Au Go Jazz, is a must for you if you've listened this far and liked what you've heard!

27. None A Jah Jah Children No Cry - Dean Fraser [88.36]
Dean Fraser has been flying the reggae jazz flag for decades, and this is taken from a late 90s recording on the short-lived, but quality 
Island Jamaica Jazz label. A wonderful version of the Ras Michael classic Rasta cut None A Jah Jah Children No Cry. Serious music!

28. Call On His Name - Aketi Ray [96.40]
A final Aketi Ray track here, forthcoming on the album 'From Ever Since'. Flute, talking drum and piano in a thankful interaction.

29. Manasseh meets The Equalizer - Looking Glass Dub [100.32]
Wanted to finish off on a Manasseh track. Nick Manasseh's radio shows on Kiss FM in the 90s were absolutely instrumental in opening up the world of Jamaican music to me (and many others!), and he's an excellent producer in his own right too. A big influence in every way.

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