Rising from the ashes of the acclaimed Jazz Jamaica AllStars Big Band, the octet is lead by ex-Aswad keyboardist Clifton‘Bigga’ Morrison.
The band uses a daring mix of technology and a full horn section to conjure thick grooves which update the timeless dance hall music for the 21st century.
The list of previous collaborators solidifies the band’s credentials, with former Joss Stone and Art Blakey sideman Alan Weekes on guitar, fellow-Aswad alumni Kenrick Rowe on drums and Craig David backing bassist Don Chandler.
Meanwhile horn players Jay Phelps and brothers Brian and Trevor Edwards are all stars of theLondonjazz scene in their own right.
The band are celebrating the long-awaited release of their debut album, Skalsa #1 – a mighty eight years in the making.
You’re all acclaimed session musicians in your own right – what does this project give you?
It allows us to play the music we love and grew up with it. Most of us used to be in Jazz Jamaica and we’ve been doing this for a long time, it gives us freedom. For the instrumentalists it offers a great opportunity to express themselves, you can be as free and avante garde as you want.
How do you blend jazz with ska rhythms?
When I was in Jazz Jamaica we played the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1997 – this lady in her eighties was on the side of the stage and afterwards she ‘that’s what jazz was when I was a little girl’. She’d lived inNew Orleansher whole life and that was the birthplace of jazz. This is really an expression of what true jazz was.
What is it about the ska groove that still has that affect on people after so many years?
There’s a pulse there that touches you and you have to move. When the Skatelites were doing this music in the sixties they were young people, energy and youth were always there. Young people founded ska and it will always be young.
What did you learn during your time with Aswad?
I was there in what people say was the heyday. I shared some special moments with that band. We used to rehearse religiously but things would happen onstage that we hadn’t rehearsed; we’d all do the same thing at the same time, as a musician that’s very special.
What’s your proudest moment?
I’m proud of so many of them, it’s very hard to pick up. I do remember playing with Dennis Brown in Zimbabwe and there where 60,000 African people jumping up and down, and it gave me the feeling of what I was doing before I was here, quite supernatural.