With all the young ska bands running around these days — by most counts this is the short-lived genre’s fourth and most successful revival — someone has to stand up and take responsibility for starting the whole thing, and that someone is the Skatalites, whose original Jamaican Jazz sound still towers over the many who would follow.
The group, formed by the late trombonist Don Drummond during the buoyant early days of national independence in Jamaica in 1963, took Big Band and Latin swing for its smooth foundation, as opposed to the punk-based angle taken by modern acts like No Doubt and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
At the House of Blues on Monday, the band — reformed since 1983 and comprising four key original Skatalites and three newer members — set a casual, festive mood, playing extended, improvised versions of many of their best-known instrumentals, like “Occupation” and “Confuscious,” many of which are found on the group’s new “Ball of Fire” (Island Jazz) album.
The trademark sax sound of original members Roland Alphonso and Lester Sterling sparkled during Drummond’s classic “Eastern Standard Time.” The animated Sterling playfully inserted snippets of songs like “Three Blind Mice” and “Pop Goes the Weasel,” only adding to the musical frolic.
The brilliant rhythm section of dance-bassist Lloyd Brevett and drummer Lloyd Knibb, who’s credited with inventing the ska drum beat, laid a relaxed but propulsive groove that infected the entire house. Also a treat was a pair of appearances by original band vocalist Doreen Shaffer, whose mellow eloquence added a soul-diva flavor to the music, particularly during an old-school take on the reggae classic “Simmer Down.”