Genuine or not, neo-ska prompted renewed interest in the Skatalites, who re-formed for an album in 1976--a year or so too soon to truly capitalize on Two-Tone mania. In the early Eighties, McCook reconvened his brainchildren a second time for a performance in the U.S. and found that the environment here was friendlier than the one in his native Jamaica.

"I found that people here were reacting to the music the way I like to see, the way it was in the early days," he says. "So I decided to move to America and try to make it on this side of the water. And I found out that we could survive playing our instruments. We could make money. And we have continued to do so until we reached the point we're at now.

"It is much better for us in America, because the music has changed in Jamaica. By the Eighties you had more rap in music and less room for instrumentalists like myself. In dancehall and rap, the rapper forces out the horn, man. In our music, we are able to play choruses and contribute to orchestration and let instrumental soloists fill in the gaps, but the music of Jamaica today doesn't call for that. Now they rap from the beginning to the end of the record, and the little space that is left is used for something like redoing the introduction in a few bars, or some similar thing. So the instrumentalist is left out in the cold. That's why, for me, dancehall is not as musically challenging."

The Skatalites' determination to do things their way eventually resulted in a pact with Shanachie, which released the worthy CD Skavooves in 1991. But it was Hi-Bop Ska that truly served notice that the Skatalites remained capable of great things. McCook deserves much of the credit; it was he who chose the outside musicians who added so much to the proceedings.

"I met Lester Bowie in Jamaica," he recalls. "He was spending time there, and one of the writers of jazz asked me if he could bring him to one of our jazz sessions. I said, `Bring him along, by all means,' and we discovered each other. I also met Steve Turre in Jamaica--he is a fantastic musician who I respect and love very much. And I met David Murray at a club in Greenwich Village. I was invited to hear him, and I was very impressed."

For the Hi-Bop Ska sessions, Murray brought with him a rearranged version of "Flowers for Albert," a tribute to Albert Ayler he first recorded during the Seventies. This blend of skronk and ska shouldn't work, but somehow it does--beautifully. Similarly entrancing are the Bowie-penned "Ska Reggae Hi-Bop" and the classic Skatalites material, which is imbued with new and boisterous life.

Whether the Skatalites will be able to match this high point next time around is uncertain; McCook answers "I don't know" to every question posed about the conglomeration's next recording, a studio project that gets under way in September. His advice to anyone who wishes to follow in his large footsteps is similarly succinct.

"Learn to play your instrument," he declares. "When you are given a chance to express yourself, learn to do so eloquently. That is what I strive to do."

The Skatalites, with Regatta 69 and Insatiable. 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 26, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, 447-0095.

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