Though sixtysomething Rastafarian saxophonist Cedric “Im” Brooks has been synthesizing adventurous jazz and reggae for decades, the 19-track Light of Saba is his first musical retrospective widely available in the U.S. Yet he’s arguably the greatest living Jamaican jazz star, winning the title by virtue of a stunning musical breadth exquisitely married to scarifying chops.
While you can quickly hear his influences—he wears his Coltrane and Sonny Rollins merit badges on his sleeve—Brooks also has an utterly distinctive sax tone and improvisatory style. The roaring rhythms of Caribbean palaver energize every measure. The new compilation focuses chiefly upon instrumental tracks backed by his “Light of Saba” band, a thunderous brass and percussion outfit occasionally supplemented by anonymous-sounding vocalists.
There’s a touch of traditional calypso (“Sly Mongoose”). There’s a wry, wicked cover of Bessie Smith’s blues, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” But mainly there are sharply focused instrumental jams that dramatically shuffle from jazz to reggae to weird dub outings to funk—then back to jazz. Think of Sun Ra at his most Afro-co(s)mic, infused with ritual Rastafarian nyabinghi beats. A reggae groove so deeply sophisticated it swings to the beat of a different drummer.