Rare is the musical reunion that works, particularly when the impetus is a renewed interest in the group's original work. As the first great ska band, Jamaica's Skatalites have been the subject of renewed interest several times since disbanding way back in 1965--most notably during England's 2-Tone craze in the early 80s, but also during the wave of ska that's washed over this country in the last few years. The blend of R & B, swing, and island rhythms the group concocted during its 14-month original career (which can be heard on the recent two-CD compilation Foundation Ska, on Heartbeat) served as a blueprint for virtually all subsequent Jamaican music. Minus the group's troubled brainchild, the late trombonist Don Drummond, and founding saxist Tommy McCook and trumpeter John Moore, the band re-formed in Brooklyn in the late 80s and has made several decent albums for Shanachie. But it's on the phenomenal new Ball of Fire (Island Jamaica Jazz) that the Skatalites sound truly revitalized. Only four original members remain--drummer Lloyd Knibb, bassist Lloyd Brevett, tenor saxist Roland Alphonso, and alto saxist Lester Sterling--but with new members the Skatalites are more energetic than ever. More important, they place greater emphasis on jazzy soloing, which distinguishes them from the scads of hollow teenybopper ska-pop bands littering the airwaves. But as edgy and buoyant as the solos are, it all really comes down to the remarkable rhythmic interplay of Knibb and Brevett. Knibb swings and skitters like one nervous mofo, while Brevett lays down a sensual pulse that fills the crevices with a custom fit. It's great that new ska faves like Let's Go Bowling and Skapone get to tour with these masters, but I sure don't envy them for getting shown up every night. Friday, 6:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Tim Barrow.