When invoked "Inna Jamaican stylee," as Romanowski's subtitle reads, "rocksteady" has nothing to do with break dancing or No Doubt. Legend has it that in the long hot summer of '66, the operators of the Jamaican mobile sound system deejay units couldn't keep their audiences dancing to the jump-up R&B of ska. In Jamaica, necessity (i.e. record sales) has always been the mother of invention, and thus the ska was slowed to half-speed, the bass and drums pumped to a new level, and rocksteady was born.
For a decade or more, Swiss-born, San Francisco-based deejay Romanowski has professed a love for Jamaica's shortest-lived -- yet extremely influential -- pop-music phenomenon. Better known as part of a deejay and turntablist scene including post-modern pioneers such as Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow -- and as a visual artist with the Curators collective -- Romanowski fulfills his Jamaican dreams on Steady Rocking, nine cuts of scorching "plenty more bass and drum" ready to help jump-start the rocksteady revival (a revival which stands as City Paper's pop-culture dream for the '04).
The biggest problem with Steady Rocking is its length: at just over a half-hour, you've barely sipped from the chalice by the time Romanowski bids farewell. Rollicking piano and Hammond organ on "Speaking Of," tight R&B saxophone and flute (plus samples of the immortal Prince Buster) on "Why?", and chicken-picked guitar on "Flat Picker" keep these mostly instrumental (plus some sampled and live chatting over the riddims) tracks interesting and, most of all, grooving.
It's no mean feat to reproduce the tinny trebles and deep basses of a '66 Kingston sound-system acetate, and simultaneously stake claim on this music for the 21st-century deejay. Romanowski's disc -- especially once it comes to the closing dub remixes of "Speaking Of" and "Chalice" -- manages to do both at once, and to do so with results worthy of late-night coffee-and-"tea" head-nodding or dance-club whine-and-grind. But more than that, Steady Rocking stands a minor call-to-arms, begging for answers from the Jamaica-obsessed worldwide deejay/producer cult. Romanowski speaks through the mouth of his heavily sampled summer-of-'66 heroes: "This is my musical attack!"