Review: Best of Shakatak

As the JJ debate on jazz identity rumbles on, Richard Palmer enjoys the instinctive swinging power of a new Shakatak collection and reminds us that in the face of musical quality “formulaic” is an inconsequential charge. Review from the March 2013 edition of Jazz Journal


Brazilian Dawn; City Rhythm; Dark Is The Night; Day By Day; Don’t Blame It On Love; Down On The Street; Easier Said Than Done; Emotionally Blue; Golden Wings; Invitations; Living In The UK; Lonely Afternoon; Mr. Manic And Sister Cool; Night Birds; Out Of This World; Stranger; Streetwalkin’; Watching You (78.05)
Bill Sharpe (kyb); George Anderson (b); Roger Odell (d); Jill Saward (v); u/k (g); u/k (reeds); u/k (harm); u/k (v). No dates or locations given.
Secret Records SECCD0063

There’s been a rich and fascinating correspondence in Jazz Journal of late concerning what should and should not be reviewed in JJ or played on BBC R3’s Jazz Record Requests – Madness, Steely Dan, so forth. I imagine this release will prolong that refreshing debate.

I’ll come clean: I always liked Shakatak, and this release confirmed and increased my delight in their work. Okay, by the highest standards the band’s music was/is limited, and I would also concede that there’s something a touch formulaic about it. But you could say the same about a lot of “bona fide” jazz acts – hard-bop combos and 30s orchestras especially – and I found these 80 minutes sped by, edifyingly and ankle-threateningly.

Sharpe was always a superior fusion keyboardist, and his skills are definitively showcased. His greatest asset is instinctive swinging power; his harmonic and melodic imagination are considerable, as is his arranger’s craft, but it is the earthy groove which most captivates and is most enduring. All those qualities are matched by Anderson and Odell, and the trio is a superbly meshed unit.

And then there’s Saward. Singers are not really my bag or forte, but I could never tire of listening to Saward. She, too, swings naturally, and her way with a lyric is invariably exquisite, bereft of bravura effects or any kind of showboating but always riveting and, well, lovely.

It’s a crying shame that the sleeve details are lax unto unprofessional laziness: there are at least several fine musicians on hand who are unacknowledged, and the absence of recording dates is well-nigh unforgivable. But ultimately that is of minor significance: this is a terrific collection that will light up your life if you have any joy left in your soul and feet to tap.

Richard Palmer

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