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Various Artists: Interpretations and Improvisations: A Tribute to Jackie Mittoo

If Kingston’s Studio One was the crucible of Jamaican recorded music during its 1960s heyday, then the chief alchemist was undoubtedly the late Jackie Mittoo. Merely on the strength of unquestionable keyboard virtuosity (most notably on the Hammond B3), Mittoo’s place in the annals of popular music is assured. But as these 18 sparkling tracks demonstrate, Mittoo (who succumbed to lung cancer in 1990 at 42) was essential to the development of Jamaica’s musical ethic, from jazz and soul to ska and reggae, and remains as vital as ever even in the midst of today’s computerized dancehall craze. Befitting an artist of his stature, a stellar team of players was recruited for this tribute project, including Monty Alexander, former Wailer Tyrone Downie, Ibo Cooper (of Third World fame), the masterly if mercurial Harold Butler, Ansel Collins and more recent heroes like Sydney Thorpe and Paul “Wrong Move” Crossdale.

Indeed, most of the cast either played with Mittoo in his prime or took their formative cues from him, and the result is a truly heartfelt, all-stops out commemoration. Whether it’s Alexander’s jaunty rendering of “Evening Time” (a Jamaican folk standard), Keith Sterling’s jagged organ shards on “Who Done It” or Mallory Williams’ whimsical “Dancing Groove,” the keyboardists do great justice to Mittoo’s legacy. Not to be outdone, the rhythm section, principally featuring “Riddim Twins” Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare lay down the seemingly impossible grooves that characterized the classic one-drop sound.

Interpretations & Improvisations is a long-overdue acknowledgement of Mittoo’s seminal influence in creating the amalgam known as reggae. In recalling Mittoo, Downie gushes that the keyboardist deserves a statue and a special day, like fellow luminary Bob Marley. That may never materialize, but this disc is a more than worthy substitute for now.

Originally Published