Instrumental Ska with Jazz Jamaica: Rico Rodriguez in the ’90s

 

Here’s a rare one (for me)…an in-depth study of someone’s discography that contains almost no vinyl.  The third wave ska scene featured something that I have not seen to my satisfaction since: truly fantastic instrumental ska albums.  While paying homage to the 1st wave with lots of covers, the 2Tone era broke fully from instrumental ska.  The 3rd wave went in several directions – punk ska (aka “punk with horns”), more traditional sounding ska with vocals, and then, the really traditional instrumental ska.  It was a particularly unique time in ska history, as a good number of the original Jamaican masters were still alive and touring, their influence obvious in every instrumental release.  One of these was the late Rico Rodriguez.  Rico was wonderful, and a trombone master.  Which brings us to today’s task: tackling the very confusing discography of Jazz Jamaica, the wonderful Rico Rodriguez band of the era.  “Oh, that’s easy,” you say.  “It was just two CDs, right?”  (Okay, I know you aren’t saying that.  Work with me.)  It turns out there were several albums that were only released in Japan, several others released under different band names, and even two using the name that were really by a different band.  It took me forever to get straight.

Total aside: I tried like hell to see Jazz Jamaica and/or Rico play before he died.  The world conspired against me.  Jazz Jamaica actually flew to the States for one show in the late 90’s – a free performance in Central Park.  My car was stuck in the shop longer than expected and I couldn’t afford the bus ticket to New York at that point.  I’m still kicking myself – I even had a friend who really had no interest go as a surrogate.  Then…years later, I lived in Switzerland, and I was supposed to drive to see Rico (in Lucerne, if memory serves), but he cancelled at the last minute due to illness.  Of course, the car I was driving might not have made it anyway.  Tragic.

At any rate, let’s take a dive into Jazz Jamaica.  First, the ground rules: what counts as Jazz Jamaica?  Here’s how I am defining the band: 1. Must contain Rico.  2. Must contain a representative sampling (half) of the eight band members who released the albums under the Jazz Jamaica name.  This will become clearer in a moment.

1. Skaravan CD – 1993/1996

Readily available U.S. CD.  Easy, right?  Negative.  This one originally came out in Japan and the UK in 1993, then later in the U.S. in 1996.  Each had a completely different cover.  That’s not too bad.  But wait, there’s more…the Japanese version contained three additional tracks.  And they’re GOOD: “Dr. Kildare,” “Rasta,” and “Confucious” (a significantly different version from the one that later came out on the Double Barrel album).  There are some wonderful recordings on this album, including my all-time favorite version of “Peanut Vendor.”  All in all, a fantastic album.  It stands out above the other early ones.  If you listen to all three of the Japanese releases, it is fairly obvious why this is the one that got the subsequent U.S. release.

2. The Jamaican Beat: Blue Note Blue Beat Vol. 1 CD – 1994

This was a Japan-only CD.  Usually fairly easy to track down, as long as you are willing to pay for shipping from Japan.  This one…I don’t know.  Parts are good and others fall flat.  It opens with a rendition of “Three Blind Mice.”  I mean…it’s certainly the best rendition of it I have heard, but it’s still “Three Blind Mice,” and they opened the album with it.  It’s…an odd choice.  They do a version of “Watermelon Man” on here, which is one of my all-time favorite instrumentals.  I have always thought that this should be a high-energy song, though, and the Jazz Jamaica version is a bit more chill, with a wandering bass line.  It’s good, but then I listen to the Jump with Joey or Baba Brooks version, and feel that those are far superior.

One weird thing is that there were a couple of tracks on the disc with vocals, which was pretty abnormal for Jazz Jamaica.  Hmm…I feel as though this is coming off as too negative.  It is actually a very good album.  The second half of the disc, in particular, is really strong – “Sidewinder” and “Song for My Father” are really good.  There is also a pretty badass version of  “Take Five” on here (which Rico later did for the fabulous late-’90s Ska Island compilation as well).  This song, with its aggressive horn line, is the type of track that really showed off Rico’s trombone ability.

3. Rico & His Band – You Must Be Crazy CD/LP – 1994

The first curve ball (aside from the Japan-only releases, of course).  This is a live album, recorded in 1994, released in Germany.  It’s not officially Jazz Jamaica, but it meets the spirit of the exercise and the sound of the band.  Rico, along with Eddie “Tantan” Thornton, Michael “Bammie” Rose, and Tony Uter play on this one.  The rest of the band is different from the Jazz Jamaica releases.  It’s a very solid live recording.

4. The Jamaican Beat Vol. 2 CD – 1995

Hey, there’s a creative title.  Vol. 2 is a Japan-only release, much like vol. 1, but this one is much harder to find, and substantially more expensive, if you can find it.  9 of 12 tracks are instrumentals, 8 of which range from good to great.  There are some really solid tracks on here.  The ones with vocals do very little for me (including a really unfortunate “Misty” cover).  Those tracks notwithstanding, this disc goes toe-to-toe with anything else Jazz Jamaica released.  It is well worth tracking down.

5. Rico Rodriguez – Wonderful World LP/CD – 1995
Rico Rodriguez All Stars – Rico’s Message CD – 1997

Here’s another effort hiding under a different name.  This one has the same “half Jazz Jamaica” lineup that we found on “You Must Be Crazy” above.  It originally came out as a CD and LP in Japan.  The CD got re-released at some point, but the LP is a really tough find.  It was also released as a French CD as Rico’s Message in 1997.  The biggest standout on here for me is the version of “Work Song” that they do (which you may know from various places, but kicks off the Slackers’ first album).  They do a great version of Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” on this disc – possibly the only Rico song with vocals that I really like.  Good stuff.

6. Michael “Bammie” Rose – Reggae Be-Bop LP/CD – 1996

Now, things get tricky.  I happened upon this album totally by chance.  In 1997, I was desperate to find the first album by the Japanese instrumental ska band, The Sideburns (a different post…hmm…maybe I’ll do that one soon).  That CD was on a Japanese label called Olive Disk & Record.  It was totally impossible to find at that time.  As a last ditch effort, I wrote to the label to see if they would sell me a copy of the Sideburns disc (possibly invoking the name of the radio station where I ran a hosted a ska show at the time…you can prove nothing…).  Well, they gave me one instead, and sent the Michael  “Bammie” Rose CD along with it.  I completely ignored it at first – singularly ska-focused as I was, I honestly never got much into reggae, so I tended to ignore most things with “reggae” in the title.

Eventually, I figured I should give it a listen.  It grabbed me instantly.  Kind of blew me away, to be honest.  After a few tracks, I started reading through the insert, and saw that Rico had played on it.  Then, I broke out my Jazz Jamaica CDs to compare, and realized that this was actually the entire band.  A Jazz Jamaica album in disguise!  And only available in Japan!  Ridiculous.  Now, it definitely does feature Mr. Rose and his flute a bit more than a normal Jazz Jamaica title.  Make no mistake, though: this is a Jazz Jamaica album.  And it’s really good.  There are several standouts here, but “The New Orleans Connection” makes me happier than most other songs in the world.  Buy this.  I would totally try to give this record a U.S. release if I thought there were any chance that I would not lose money on the endeavor.  Of course, the label is long defunct and in Japan, so…all easier said than done.  And not really easily said.

7. Double Barrel CD – 1998

Finally…an easy one.  Double Barrel was the last Jazz Jamaica album.  It just crushes from the opening intro line, as they launch into the title track, a Dave & Ansel Collins classic: “We are Jazz Jamaica.  We’ve come here to boom-shock-a-rocker- your soul!”  The second half of the album gets a little jazzier than the first half, but it’s still excellent.  Start to finish, Double Barrel is a fantastic instrumental album.  It closes with a badass instrumental cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” that you must hear.  The CD was/is readily available in the U.S.

Jazz Jamaica All Stars – Massive / Motor City Roots CDs –
NOT JAZZ JAMAICA

These two CDs need to be addressed, as they use the Jazz Jamaica name, and…quite frankly, are a different band.  The bass and guitar players from Jazz Jamaica were in this band.  No one else.  No Rico.  These two discs sound nothing like any of the ones above.  They were really just trying to capitalize on the Jazz Jamaica name.  It fooled me enough to buy the first one.  It’s fine…but it’s not Jazz Jamaica.

So, there you go.  A convoluted, meandering jaunt through the ’90s path of Jazz Jamaica, one of the best instrumental ska bands of the time. Hopefully, there is something in here you have not heard.  If you like any of the above, the rest are worth tracking down.

Jamaican Ska Records Are Going to Drive Me Crazy

No, seriously.  A very…let’s say “detail-oriented”…personality such as my own cannot handle trying to research Jamaican records.  I am working on a little Skatalites project right now, which I will premier a few months from now, depending on where my research takes me and whether I retain my sanity.  I was sorting out the tracks that appear on the old Studio 1 Best of the Ska-talites album, starting with the track “Air Raid Shelter.”  My LP is in fairly rough shape, so in digitizing it, I ended up with really crackly recordings.  I happen to have the 7″ of that song, so I figured I would just record the 7″ and be done with it.  Simple, right?  Negative, Ghost Rider.  The song on the 7″ didn’t match the one on the album.  I checked over on Discogs, which told me that the tracks on the record were all out of order.  Crap.  That album was my only source for about 8 of the tracks on there.  After researching the matrix codes on the 7″, I determined that it was mislabeled, and was actually “Addis Ababa.”  Cool.  Let’s double check that with the version of that one that I have on the Foundation Ska CD – that ought to be accurate, right?  D’oh…that’s an entirely different song, and was actually “Fidel Castro.”  Cross-referencing with YouTube, I sorted it all out, and “Air Raid Shelter” was actually labeled correctly on the LP.  So let’s recap…the Best of the Ska-Talites LP track listing on the sleeve does not match the one on the labels, neither of which match the actual track listing.  However, the tracks on my copy are not out of order in the same way that is documented on Discogs.  The “Air Raid Shelter” 7″ is actually “Addis Ababa,” and “Addis Ababa” on the Foundation Ska CD is actually “Fidel Castro.”  Got it.

Pette Discogs’ Best Albums of 2016 (and Late 2015)

‘Tis time. My annual music review has been something I have put together for several years, but I have generally limited it to a personal Facebook post. That seems a little silly, considering these vast tools at my disposal to reach at least 5-10 additional people who might care. So, I’m expanding the reach this year. Here we go: my favorite albums of 2016 (and late 2015, if I did not get to it by 2015, but it counts because I make the rules). The first few entries here are interchangeable in my rankings – they are all albums I have listened to incessantly since I discovered them.

1. Tacocat – Lost Time
I was way late to the game on Tacocat. Then, I was listening to extensively curated female-singer-indie-rock channel on Pandora, and Pandora and I had a discussion, which essentially amounted to Pandora saying, “Um, you like Tacocat, dumbass. No, really. Get on that,” and me saying, “Mmhm.” We had that conversation about three times before I paid attention. Pandora was correct, and I have remedied the problem. I am now caught up. The good news is this happened at the perfect time: about a month before the release of a new Tacocat album, followed by not one, but two rare DC tour appearances. It’s true: I  Tacocat and you should, too. Their newest album, Lost Time, covers all kinds of fun topics, but I will leave that to you to work through.

Highlights: Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkG_Wo-01Qc
I Hate the Weekend https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsXYk-Yw-jY
Dana Katherine Scully https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_Q3am_-L6o

2. S P O R T S – All of Something (2015)
Heartfelt, energetic, solid indie rock with a distinct hint of a midwestern sound. This album grabbed me immediately…I just didn’t hear it until early 2016. I read a review of All of Something shortly after I heard it that made it sound as though this band had all the makings of one that was not long for this world (some members – but not all – graduated from college and moved from Ohio to Philly). It hasn’t done them in yet.

Highlights: Saturday https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU-LEXqB3D8
Reality TV https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBPws9DOCDc
GDP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9zUJeh1h1c

3. Bloodboy – Best of Bloodboy EP
No, Bloodboy is not a hardcore or metal band (at least not yet) – just solo singer/songwriter Lexie Papilion. I am still trying to figure out how I found my way to this EP. It contains sounds one would normally expect to find exclusively in ’80s songs (and for those of you saying, “I love ’80s songs!” I did not mean that as a positive). It works, though. It really works. These are phenomenal songs. Intense, biting, and infectious – I have been listening to this EP repeatedly for the past couple of months. If only there were a physical product so that I could give her money for her music… Anyway, this EP is a stellar debut and I look forward to what is to come.

Highlights: Keep Your Disease https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxH5DNIF9uU
Hey Kid https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUkFgXCV5fQ
Fuck Yourself (I find it endlessly entertaining that Amazon refers to this one as “Fuck Yourself [Explicit]”…y’think?) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6nXvLLdVDQ
Mom, I’ve Changed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Uiq8Q9XgJE

Oh, just listen to the whole thing. It’s all good. The last track doesn’t hold my attention quite as much as the first five, but it’s still good.

4. Blowout – No Beer, No Dad
Blowout sounds like early Lemuria…I mean they REALLY remind me of early Lemuria. This is a fantastic development – I miss early Lemuria. It’s catchy indie-punk songs at their finest. This is their first full length, and it has also been occupying my stereo with great regularity in the latter part of this year.

Highlights: Guts Grown Up https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psoYmtqACxU
Cents Cents Money Money https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq2tzjgAjhc
Green Couch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q1WwxjuQ0w
Indiana https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeR2xSTbhzI

5. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
The guys in Modern Baseball are starting to be confronted with problems in life that stretch beyond relationships, and their songwriting has begun to reflect this. The two songwriters, Jake and Brendan, each wrote one side of the record. I feel as though this actually detracts from it a little, as their styles are distinct, but complementary. I think the album would have had a better flow if they were mixed up a little – doing it this way makes it sound more like two EPs. Also, the band released a surprise EP, The Perfect Cast, last year – if they had instead included some of those songs on here, I would view this record as spectacular (total aside, but the 2015 EP contained the song, “The Waterboy Returns,” which I think is one of the most powerful songs I have heard in a very long time. According to an article/interview I read, the lyrics are taken from texts that Jake was sending Brendan when Brendan was in a suicidal depression). But I digress. Any small issues I have with Holy Ghost amount to nitpicking – it’s an excellent record overall. I don’t find myself listening to it quite as much as their last full length, You’re Gonna Miss It All, but I still give it a great deal of attention.

Highlights: Apple Cider, I Don’t Mind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsWuKaHbSFM
Mass https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYpHHVAAcuw
What If… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGNpnHF0fjw

6. The Joy Formidable – Hitch
I need to preface this one by saying that I really enjoy this album. It took me a little while to start listening to it regularly, but I got there, and it is a solid effort. I think every song on it is quality, with one exception, The Gift – it is harder to take that one seriously, as it sounds to me like the song that would be playing behind the brooding ’80s action hero during the mid-movie montage after everything falls apart. My quandary is more what to do with the Joy Formidable as a whole. The band has an affinity for the rock epic. They always have. As time has gone on, though, they seem to have gravitated toward this model more and more, and this is reflected in their live sets. They are good at it. It is definitely entertaining. I have just always found their songs that feature fewer blaring guitar solos to be MORE entertaining. I feel as though their live shows have leaned on the guitar-solo-heavy material a little too much and have felt a bit formulaic ever since they started touring for their last album. Hitch came out in March on Caroline in the U.S. (previous efforts had been on Atlantic)…I think that change was really obvious, as this one really didn’t seem to have a lot of label support behind it. That’s a shame, as Hitch is a very good album. It was, unfortunately, plagued by vinyl pressing problems – the band quite clearly did everything in its power to remedy those issues, but the ultimate result was a massive delay in delivering the product to the customers – I got mine last week, and again, it came out in March. I do still highly recommend this band to people who are looking for a big guitar rock sound with a mainstream, early-’90s feel.

Highlights: Radio of Lips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvyrSEVeZWc
The Brook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDtzCkRpBkk
Blowing Fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0pd5AZiSkM

7. Lutheran Heat – Louder from the Other Side
Full disclosure: my sister, Sara, is in this band. All that means is that I heard of a band that I otherwise would not have. Anyone who knows me knows that if I didn’t legitimately really like it, I wouldn’t say anything about it. And I do like it. A lot. This album is a seriously fun batch of energetic indie rock cuts. Dance/shout along as you see fit. Oh, and apparently, you can buy the record via Walmart, which I am sure my sister finds as hysterical as I do (https://www.walmart.com/…/Lutheran-Heat-Louder-Fr…/124825507 ).

Highlights: Who Ya Cryin’ For? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvBnNhPgnk0
Outer Space https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FwetgXTAg0
Now Ya Know https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vxOn_Xl8z0

8. The Slackers – S/T (2015)
I have had a hard time getting excited about a lot of the ska albums that have been released in the past few years. I haven’t lost a taste for the genre at all…I still listen to first and third wave ska as much as anything else. Something has been missing in a lot of the newer efforts that I have heard. The Slackers avoided that trap with their self-titled record that came out late last year. When I did my write-up for 2015, I had not yet digested this album sufficiently. I have now, and it is quite good. Do yourself a favor and go see the Slackers when you have a chance (and you will have a chance…these guys must tour 250 days a year…when I read their tour itineraries, I get exhausted just sitting in my chair imagining it).

Highlights: Working Overtime https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-1l2EGpx28
I Want to Be Your Girl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHylDASVADA

9. Dressy Bessy – Kingsized
This one caught me entirely off guard in a number of ways. I always had peripheral interest in this band – each album of theirs had a couple of songs that I absolutely loved, but I never totally loved listening to their full albums. I’m not sure what it was exactly. When I got a Bandsintown notification that they were playing near me a couple of months ago, my reactions were: 1. Dressy Bessy is still together? 2. They are playing five minutes from my house? Tonight? The decision was clear – it was time to see Dressy Bessy. They played maybe two songs I’d ever heard before, and you know what? It didn’t matter. They are excellent live, and their sound is a bit of a different experience than their recordings. It’s harsher and more energetic. I dug it. I also bought their newest album, Kingsized, while I was there, and came to realize that they have managed to capture that live energy on their newest studio recordings. With Dressy Bessy, you generally know what you are getting – catchy pop/indie rock songs. There are some serious standouts on this record.

Highlights: Lady Liberty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdx-KI1MjT8
Kingsized https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_G1EEP6QAg

10. Skating Polly – The Big Fit
Skating Polly are really developing as songwriters. Their newest album a really intriguing listen. Overall, it’s a little uneven mix of styles, some of which are still works in progress…but, seriously, these two are 16 and 20 years old and just released their FIFTH album, so who am I to say anything? I am a little torn with Skating Polly…they have fully captured the harsh sound of early ’90s Babes in Toyland and similar female grunge bands. I do love that energy – they really do it well, and few can do it well. However…I think their superior songs are the softer ones. I think they have the potential for greatness, and am eager to see where their career takes them.

Highlights: Pretective Boy (and yes, it spelled that way on purpose) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAabkB5c8Yc
Picker of His Words https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV6-Cjh0STI

11. The Interrupters – Say It Out Loud
This is a fun one. About three notes in, I said to myself, “Well, I know who wrote that.” It sounds exactly like vintage Rancid ska songs. I was partially correct – Tim Armstrong did not write the songs on this album. He did produce them, though, and is quite obviously the major influence for this band. The thing is..it’s pretty good. It doesn’t sound like recent Rancid ska-punk. It sounds like maybe a late-’90s Rancid album. It’s a guilty pleasure, but this is a fairly fun album.

Highlights: She Got Arrested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2m3ZTHGYCI
You’re Gonna Find a Way Out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1guyM_Yg7rc

All of these (plus a couple of other tracks I liked, but the corresponding albums did not grab me) are on a Spotify playlist, if you are interested:https://open.spotify.com/…/…/playlist/4sd1RE0cactGgxSOgMEchB

BLOG!!!

Well, check that out: I went and made a Pette Discogs blog.  This format should make it easier for me to post about some of the individual records I have researched in recent years.  I have replaced the blog-ish part of the main site with this one and am loading all of my old posts from that site on here so that they are archived better.

Total Tuscadero Update

In honor of Tuscadero reuniting to play the Black Cat 20th Annviersary show in DC, I have updated all of my Tuscadero entries with new information.  I have also added three compilations that I had never covered before.

The Joy Formidable Discography

I am very pleased to announce that I have added a new section to the discography site detailing the albums and singles for the Joy Formidable.  I did not know what to make of this band when I first heard them.  I heard “Whirring” on the radio and immediately raised an eyebrow.  They exhibited the sort of guitar-driven, distorted, big sound that characterized much of the music that I have liked most in my life.  It was a sound that had been sorely missing from the industry since the major label world ate itself in the middle of the ’90s.  I proceeded trepidatiously, having been burned by many others over the years, but the more I dug into the band’s offerings, well, the more I dug it.  The Joy Formidable does have a certain commercial sensitivity to it, but it’s really good anyway.  I swear.  I figured I would swoop in and grab all of their vinyl early on so that it would not cost me huge amounts on the collectors’ market later.  Oops.  It turns out the big ticket items for this band are CDs and CD box sets.  Well, I eventually tracked those down as well.  Now that we have a strong second full-length effort (Wolf’s Law) shredding speakers, an exclusive single due out for Record Store Day, and another big U.S. tour underway, I thought that it was time.  It is a rare case that has me this hooked on a new band these days.  If you have not given the Joy Formidable some of your attention, you should make that happen.

Updates!

Welcome back!  I have been making little updates to site with some regularity, but I have not been posting about them for some time.  That changes now.  I am currently in the midst of some larger-scale stuff.  When I am done, each entry will have price trending information in addition to the values, which should add a little more useful context to my record valuations.  Next, I am adding “last updated” dates to the bottom of each entry.  This is a work in progress, but I am done updating parts of the site.  The Rocket from the Crypt pages are fully updated.  The content of the Afghan Whigs pages has been fully updated.  Most of the rest of the pages have updates in progress.  Slowly but surely.  I have also been spending some time trying to get my label, Shattered World Music, off the ground.  It turns out this takes time and money.  Who woulda thought?