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V/A - Studio One DJ's 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Studio One DJ's 2

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Sep. 4, 2006

At its best – and that’s what’s offered here on this new Soul Jazz compilation – the classic Jamaican DJ genre offers a perfect blend of breezy coolness and musical exhilaration. Indeed, there’s often something immediate and almost absurdly engaging about the sound of the Caribbean spoken word at the rhythmic intersection of poetry and music, spinning stories and insults and celebrations over the perfection of time-tested rock steady, ska, and reggae rhythms.

The rhythm tracks here come as both originals and remakes, and these recordings from the 1970s (plus a few from the '80s) feature stellar playing from Studio One back-up crews like Soul Vendors and The Soul Defenders, along with some bliss-inducing soloing from sax players Roland Alphonso and Cedric Im Brooks.

But of course, it’s really all about the Djs – those voices, full of individual style and character, paradoxically pulling the listener even deeper into the trance. Dennis Alcapone’s light touch and seductive rhythmic playfulness caused a DJ paradigm shift in the '70s, coming as it did after the original U-Roy cool hipster DJ revolution, and it’s Alcapone’s sparkling style that starts off the collection and sets the agenda for most of the DJs represented. It’s fun to follow Alcapone’s influence along to the likes of the ebullient Lone Ranger (who brings a light touch even to a serious Bob Marley memorial) and Alton Ellis (much better known, of course, as a singer than as a toaster!).

But there are other styles represented as well, including an early track by King Cry Cry (who later went on to DJ fame as the rough-voiced roots -man chanter Price Far I), and a long disco mix masterpiece – “Crabwalking,” built on the fluid rhythms of Horace Andy’s “Skylarking” – by the edgy and intense Prince Jazzbo. There are also fine tastes of the hooky rub-a dub genre that ruled the dancehalls just before the electro-ragga movement ascended in the late '80s. The original DJ style of the 1960s gets in some licks too, courtesy of King Stitt, who was part of the first generation of sound system DJs.

Listening to the words and the way they flow on these tracks offers many pleasures. And if one tires of that, well, there’s always the miracle of the Studio One sound: All those fine rhythms laid down by the best musicians of Jamaican music’s golden age.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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