Sly & Robbie | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sly Dunbar (drums and percussion) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass) are generally recognized as the greatest professional rhythm section in reggae. As their reputation has grown, they've taken advantage of the opportunity to jump from backing big reggae acts, like Black Uhuru, to backing even bigger international rock acts, like the Rolling Stones. Though they've hardly abandoned reggae, this is nevertheless often known as "selling out." Phooey, they say. To prove it, on their latest solo album, 1987's Rhythm Killers, the duo put their genre-busting sellout to brilliant use. Aided and abetted by Bill Laswell's larger-than-life production, they set their monolithic groove front and center, supporting it with a ring of sidemen from almost every Afro-American musical style, and the combination of professional groove and groovy diversity funks the house down in more ways than you can count. The European dynamic to which they set this pastiche is just as brilliant. Each side of the disc takes a near-standard black pop tune--"Fire" on one side, "Yes We Can" on the other--and then uses it as the takeoff point for three interconnected tunes that act as three movements in a symphony, a symphony carried by an orchestra of jazzmen, rappers, veteran funksters, reggae toasters, and avant-garde samplers. This tour de force would have done Duke Ellington proud, and I bet the Ohio Players would like it, too. All they are saying is: Let's rock. Saturday, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959.

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