Despite his legendary status, Carlos Malcolm is seldom given the same kind of recognition as that afforded his peer group ska pioneers Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, Byron Lee and the various musicians of the Skatalites. You won't find his name written large in reggae reference books, unless it's in acknowledgement of his classic ska version of TV's Bonanza theme. And until relatively recently, you wouldn't be able to find much of Malcolm's back catalogue on CD other than the oft-reissued Bonanza Ska. But in 1999 the Dutch Jamaican Gold label issued a splendid Malcolm retrospective, containing just about all of the man's boom shots from the early-mid 60s. And now, at long last, BGP is able to bring you a first time on CD reissue of Carlos Malcolm's 1970 funk masterpiece Bustin' Outta The Ghetto, originally released by jazz piano great Ahmad Jamal's AJP records in 1970 and a coveted rarity for many - pretty much from the day it was issued.
Then and now, Bustin' Outta the Ghetto was and remains a solid example of East Coast-style street funk. AJP Records was based in New York, and the ten cuts that the album offers are not a million miles away from the kind of thing that the upcoming Fatback Band and young New Jersey bloods Kool And The Gang were noted for back in the day (Malcolm apparently recorded an album in this period with the young Gang, that was never issued for reasons that are lost to the vagaries of time) and would soon hone to hard-core dance perfection. It's somewhat surprising, then, that it was apparently recorded in the Virgin Islands, and produced by James Shaw (not to be confused with "The Mighty Hannibal", James T Shaw), who worked mostly in and out of Memphis, Tennessee.
By augmenting hard funk with a few Caribbean flavours - not to mention an interesting use, in places, of a harmonica - he was able to come up with the sonic mix that can be heard throughout Bustin' Outta The Ghetto. Carlos had a hand in the composition of all bar one of the ten cuts, his co-writers being the aforementioned Mr Shaw and a fellow Caribbean expat, the acclaimed jazz pianist Monty Alexander. The uncredited musicians that made up the Fireburners, successors to the Afro-Jamaican Rhythm, are anything but anonymous musically, and their relentless funk drive inspires their leader to some blistering 'bone solos throughout the set.
There's a solid ska vibe going on in some of the basic melodies - check out Truck Full Of Soul especially, and see if you can't imagine the horn lines with a straight ska rhythm behind them. And the slower reggae grooves that were just beginning to come in at the time that Bustin' Outta The Ghetto was recorded can be heard creeping in gently behind Rockin' In My Rocket, Bounce What You Got and the second, slower rendition of Pound For Pound. None of this would have sounded especially strange to most residents of the Bronx, or Queens, which by 1970 were full of Jamaicans who'd migrated to the States in search of better living or work situations, if they'd managed to hear it, that is. Sadly, at the time of its release the record was largely overlooked. The black American album market was still very much the junior partner to its singles equivalent in 1970 (although that would all change the following year when Marvin Gaye released What's Going On and almost single-handedly changed the way black Americans would approach record buying), and because there was no hit single to preface this collection - and also because AJP's distribution was, to say the least, on the poor side - it fell largely stillborn from the presses.
That was then, as they say, and this is now. Building an underground reputation over the ensuing quarter-century to the point where it is now a desirable funk collectible of no small reputation, Bustin' Outta The Ghetto's desirability has been "authenticated" by the fact that it has been counterfeited on vinyl in recent years, but this BGP reissue-from-mastertape marks the first appearance - legitimate or otherwise - on compact disc. Don't miss out on this pivotal album in the genesis of funk!
by Dean Rudland