Thursday, May 16, 2019

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Frightnrs, NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

"Make Up Your Mind" b/w "Make Up Dub" (7" picture disc, Mad Decent, 2019) is the second physical release mined from The Frightnrs' excellent 2015 digital-only Inna Lovers Quarrel EP (the other 7" single was "Sharon" b/w "Admiration"). This ace rocksteady cut and its dub version (perfectly captured--as always--with an early '80s Henry "Junjo" Lawes-like production by Ticklah) features the singer frustratedly pleading with his lady to send a clear message as to where things are (or aren't) heading: "Make up your mind/Please don't leave me hanging on/Because you're fine/You know my love for you is so strong." Viewed through the lens or strobe light of a smart phone, this instantly collectible picture disc produces a pretty cool zoetropic visual effect as it spins on your turntable, but the main attraction here is the great music and the late Dan Klein's honeyed voice.

NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble's Break Thru (CD/digital, Brixton Records/Ska-Jazz Productions, 2019) is the 14th studio album from this Third Wave-era powerhouse led by Fred Reiter on sax/vocals with Mark Damon on bass/t-bone, Kevin Batchelor on trumpet, Joey Gallo on drums, Simone Amodeo on guitar, and Andrea Ferraro on keys. As always, NYSJE works wonders within the sweet spot between American jazz and Jamaican ska originally forged by The Skatalites well over 50 years ago. Break Thru sports terrific, mostly instrumental originals; three covers; and truly incredible musicianship throughout. The more ska-leaning tracks include the infectious, smile-inducing "Chicky Chicky Boom Boom," the frantic "Bopicana," the hard driving "Blowout," and the sung title track, which is part global travelogue of places the band has toured blended with words of encouragement for the fans. The cuts "Freddie's Bounce" (swinging trad jazz) and "Subliminal Seductions" (funky and rocking) permit the band members to show off their considerable jazz chops. While NYSJE's cover of the well-trod "Perfidia" and revisit of Bob Marley and the Wailers' "Love and Affection" (first covered by NYSJE back in 1998 for Moon Ska Records' Love and Affection: Ska in the Key of Love compilation) are quite good (love the harmonizing!), it's their surprisingly vulnerable and affecting version of Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" that might leave the listener with a lump in their throat.

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