New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble – Break Thru

NYSJE is kind of like a speeding train which races forward for 25 years now without any decelerations. Occasional exchange of passengers doesn’t have any serious impact on the general direction and definitely not on the great reputation of this ska-jazz torpedo. Last Saturday New Yorkers released “Break Thru”, their first studio longplay for eight years. Is there any break through here?

I don’t know what this title means exactly, but I assure you that if we’re talking about music, everything is pretty much the same, just as it’s supposed to be. Solid portion of energy filled ska-jazz occasionally enriched with some vocals. Healthy mix of covers and original compositions by Kevin Batchelor, Mark Damon and Rocksteady Freddie. The latter is actually the only original band member and commander-in-chief of this marvelously speeding team.  If you’ve seen NYSJE live, you know what he’s capable of. When I think of this guy, a word “virtuoso” instantly appears in my mind. So, how much of this virtuosity is on the latest album?

My verdict is six out of ten. It’s not any final rating. It’s simply a number of beautifully energetic instrumentals for which this New York ensemble is famous. Every single one of them is a jewel. They are great and outstandingly performed tunes – exactly of the kind that made me fall in love with this band years ago. “Chicky Chicky Boom Boom”, “Bopicana”, “Blowout”, “Band Aid”, “Freddie’s Bounce”, “Sumbliminal Seduction”. Nothing has changed, my love conitunes – you’re as beautiful as the day we’ve met.

The remaining four songs leave me with some doubts. I understand the need of diversifying an album with vocals, but I guess, I just don’t get it here. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna become a fan of “peace & love” message (which you can hear in the title song), even if it’s played exquisitely. It’s a personal opinion but I think that “Perfidia” covers in contemporary ska and reggae are mostly not too good and it would be usually much better to simply leave this topic alone. In this case also. I was somewhat surprised to hear first notes of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” by the end of the album. Everythins was gently tuned in Jamaican direction, nice and pretty and all, yet I still wondered why it’s there. Probably the best vocal tune is The Wailers’ song “Love & Affection” with Treasure Don, a sing-jay from Bronx, NY., on the mic. Choice of this song is a little trivial, but it fits good with its instrumental surroundings.

Some people are bored with instrumental albums. Me, if they’re good enough, I could drown in them. And this album might be of this kind. The problem is the proportion, there’s too much compromise. Memorable “Get This” and “Low Blow” records were better balanced. Musically it’s the same perfection, but I like better pretty much all vocal songs from those albums.. I’ve listened to “Break Thru” quite a few times already. Although at some point I’ve skipped a track once or twice, I still think it’s a very good album. If you want to listen to some fresh ska-jazz sounds, I’m pretty sure there was no better release in this genre for quite some time.

Album is available at Brixton Records on vinyl and CD. You’ll also find it on the most popular streaming platforms.

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