In 1973, the Jamaican saxophonist and composer Cedric “Im” Brooks issued a wonderful album entitled From Mento to Reggae to Third World Music.
The collection included dynamic renditions of material associated with Justin Hinds, the Skatalites and Bob Marley and fused the genres name-checked in its title with jazz, ska, rocksteady and afrobeat. Regularly rereleased, it neatly encapsulates the contribution Brooks made to Jamaican music over the past 50 years.
Like many of his contemporaries, including the original Skatalites horn section of trombonist Don Drummond, tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, trumpeter Johnny “Dizzy” Moore and alto saxophonist Lester Sterling, Brooks was a pupil at the legendary Alpha Boys School, the charitable institution run by Roman Catholic nuns under the direction of Sister Mary Ignatius in his native Kingston. He first went there in his early teens, and thrived under its excellent music programme. Brooks played the piano and the clarinet before switching to the flute and the tenor saxophone.
Following a spell in the Jamaica Military Band, he joined various groups on the hotel and holiday-resort circuit, teaming up with McCook and another future Skatalite, Roland Alphonso, as well as guitarist Ernest Ranglin, in the Granville Williams Orchestra. He went on to residencies in Montego Bay and the Bahamas before becoming part of Sound Dimension, the session men assembled by the producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One in Kingston.
In 1968, he relocated to Philadelphia and followed in the footsteps of John Coltrane, one of his major influences, when he studied at Combs College of Music. Already interested in Ethiopia and the Rastafarian belief system revolving around Emperor Haile Selassie, he took on board the avant-garde jazz of Sun Ra as well as the groundbreaking collaboration between Pharoah Sanders and ululating vocalist Leon Thomas – and began forging his own mystical hybrid. Having returned to Jamaica, Brooks played on “Door Peep”, Burning Spear’s 1969 debut single, and formed Im and David with trumpeter David Madden. They cut a series of distinctive, Eastern and African-flavoured, mostly instrumental singles for Studio One, such as “Black Is Black”, “Mystic Mood” and “Money Maker”, which contributed to the emergence of roots reggae and dub.
Brooks and Madden then billed themselves as the Mystics, before striking an alliance with Count Ossie and his troupe of chanting Rastafarian drummers. Under the name Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, in 1973 this ensemble made a diverse and influential three-album set entitled Grounation after the holy day celebrating Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in 1966.
His subsequent recordings with the Divine Light, subsequently renamed the Light of Saba, and the transcendent Im Flash Forward and United Africa albums he issued under his own name in the late 1970s, continued in a similar Afro-conscious vein. In 1975 he retitled his storming version of Hamilton Bohannon’s “South African Man” for the producer Clive Chin “South African Reggae”.
Brooks was not only a pioneer of jazz-reggae-afrobeat fusion, but also an educator who ran workshops in Kingston and at the University of the West Indies. He performed in Cuba as well as Canada and the US, moving to New York in the 1980s. In 1998 he recorded with the Jamaican trombonist and bandleader Carlos Malcolm in San Francisco before replacing the late Alphonso in the reactivated Skatalites. He spent part of the next decade touring and recording with them. He had been seriously ill for the last three years and died of a heart attack at a hospital in New York.
Cedric Brooks, saxophonist and composer: born Kingston, Jamaica 1943; seven children; died New York 3 May 2013.
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