By all rights, Jazz Jamaica All Stars' Massive should break through to the fabled mainstream and sell a million copies-to hipsters looking for something a little different to get bodies moving at crowded parties, to jazz aficionados who appreciate sizzling solos over bumping beats, to Jamaican pop fans who can see their touchstones as points of departure, to people who love the brassy swagger of big bands and miss when you could dance to it.
Blooming from British bassist Gary Crosby's Jazz Jamaica group, the 20-strong All Stars work from a simple but devastatingly effective formula: A dynamite rhythm section lays down infectious grooves while trumpets, trombones and saxes play seductive arrangements that leave plenty of room for high-spirited solos. The musicians Crosby has assembled hail from backgrounds including jazz, reggae, ska and pop, and they can play anything: Jamaican standards like "My Boy Lollipop," jazz compositions like Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," the reggae anthem "Liquidator," and even Burt Bacharach's "Walk on By."
The sheer joy that the Jazz Jamaica All Stars find in all this music, though, is what really makes this record irresistible. Jason Yarde's arrangement of "Footprints" has a deep rhythmic snap that inspires both swaggering playing from the band and rhapsodic, hair-raising solos from saxophonist Andy Sheppard and vibraphonist Orphy Robinson. Yarde's formidable arrangement of "Liquidator" takes itself unseriously enough to quote both the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" and make it all work. Vocalist Juliet Roberts flows sweetly on "My Boy Lollipop" and "Walk on By," while brass chords so rich they're almost decadent make an expressive counterpoint to her voice on both tracks. And in "Ball of Fire" and "Vitamin A," the charge when multiple soloists pile in together toward the end of each track and use the rhythms, the band and one another as springboards for improvisation, will do amazing things for both your mind and your booty.
Of course, none of that guarantees that Massive will go Buena Vista Social Club on the marketplace. But it does mean that any similar success that comes to the Jazz Jamaica All Stars will be entirely deserved.