San Diego, California, 2018, King Pops Horn and son, Korey Kingston began on a musical partnership, merging Korey’s deep vested love for dub and reggae with his father’s tenure as a decorated traditional jazz singer.
Gathering a gang of musicians with resumes including savvy veterans from The Aggrolites, Rhythm Doctors, Suedehead, Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Original Wailers, Stevie Wonder and a pianist who plays organ for the San Diego Padres baseball team, they formed Shuffle & Bang.
Over multiple recording sessions taking two years, this unique musical journey culminated in an accomplished album, Island Bop. Pirates Press Records, partnered with the band’s own Jetsetter Records are ready to deliver this gem to the world on 6th November; everything about it suggests it’s right up my street and banging loudly on my door.
And it is, and it is loud. Dressed as a classic Blue Note jazz album, with indistinct band-in-action photo and simple capitalised font running down the left side, it comes exceptionally close to capturing the elegance of an era of definitive jazz and soul. Yet it drifts wildly between genres, a surprise to know what’s coming next in many ways, but often, perhaps, constituting a Jack-of-all-trades.
I mean this in the nicest way possible, to hit the benchmarks of such legendary epochs, to come close to all the variety of influences represented here in one shebang, from Blue Note to Stax and Studio One, is quite near impossible. You got to hand it to them for trying. For all it is worth, it is accomplished, highly polished and grand. It’s exceedingly entertaining and highly danceable, to boot! Just don’t let the cover art allow to run off with the idea you’ve stumbled upon a new Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going on.
At all times, no matter what subgenre it’s mimicking, it’s brash but not slapdash, flamboyant and proud. There’s minimal subtly of soul, delicately tight riffs of ska, and to cast it overall is to say it is akin to big band, as it’s in your face and won’t let you escape, even if you wanted to, which, you probably wouldn’t. Big Band does jump blues, ska, soul, and even by the end, dub reggae.
Yep, you heard it right; it ticks all the boxes. The opening song is a deep acapella with a booming Teddy Pendergrass fashioned soul voice, whereas the second sets the running theme as this big band panache. Taking the jazz end of a classic ska sound, the third tune dragged me onto the dancefloor, or my kitchen lino to be more precise; yep, I’m reviewing while washing the dishes again!
Switching back to Cab Calloway big band groove for a fifth song, it is perhaps the next which is most interesting to date, Naima maintains a big band style but serves it with a rock steady riff. Quickly as it does it, it shifts again, onto a shuffle rhythm with some killer horns, more Louis Jordan than T-Bone Walker.
Within the thirteen strong songs, the whole album is showy and that makes it rather magnificently inimitable, and because of this running big band ethos incorporating all the various styles, at no time does it jerk into an alternative genre, shudder the goalposts, rather surprisingly, they flow all rather splendidly.
It gets unpremeditated and rides the Ratpack train, with beguiling vocal gorgeousness, When I Take My Sugar to Tea, particularly, or a take of traditional ska like the Skatalites, but the next tune might again return to up-tempo swing. Given our Louis Jordan reference, the only recognisable cover is his Tympany Five’s Let the Good Times Roll, at least you think it is, until the end song.
If you figured this cover might act as a grand finale, prepare, because after a drum and cymbal interlude, the groove suddenly and without warning dubs. Yep, true dat; with a deep rolling bass and reverbs akin to King Tubby, and perhaps melodica to impersonate Augustus Pablo, we are treated to a divine dub of the Gorillaz’s Clint Eastwood. Although they’re calling it Drum Song.
The culmination forces you to hardly recognise the style at the beginning of the album, and to return to it might make you think, no, I want to go listen to some Sly & Robbie now instead. However, Island Bop will rest accustomed in a jazz, blues, soul or reggae record collection, and you will return to its gorgeous portrayals. For all its swapping and merging, yes, Island Bop is hard to pin down, but for eclectic jazz and soul fans, its refreshingly experimental and a damn good groove!