Jackie Mittoo Champion in the Arena 1976-1977

Jackie Mittoo has been credited as the most influential musician ever produced by Jamaica. As a chief architect of the famed Studio One label, he wrote hundreds of enduring bass lines and arrangements that still rock crowds to this day — their influence having extended far beyond reggae, and into other forms of dance music. He is best described as a Jamaican Booker T., favouring a similar organ sound and penchant for off-kilter grooves. This collection of recordings produced in 1976 and ’77 finds him at the confluence of talented producers Bunny Lee, Sly and Robbie and King Tubby’s studio. Many of his Studio One classics like "Ram Jam,” "Drum Song" and "Hot Milk" are reprised in a laid-back rockers format, updated with ARP synth, clavinet, and always-simmering organ. While some tracks are duplicated on the disc, each version is distinct and wonderful. One quibble with this reissue is Penny Reel’s liner notes. While they are a warm reminiscence of encounters with Mittoo in Britain, they give short shrift to his 20 years in Canada. I spoke with Mittoo’s widow Carol Brown about this, and she reminded me that when Mittoo came to Canada in 1968 he represented the first taste of Jamaican music many Torontonians ever had, playing the Yonge St. club scene throughout the ’70s. He recorded Canada’s first reggae LPs (to be reissued shortly) and was an inspiration to scores of promising musicians in Canada. J.A. Brown emphatically denied the liner notes’ myopic stance that Mittoo felt unappreciated and unknown in Canada. Blood and Fire is a great label, but their UK-centrism sometimes fails to acknowledge reggae’s influence outside of Jamaica and England. (Blood and Fire)