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Friday, June 01, 2001

Dub Review - June 2001

The Abyssinians Best of

M10 -320442

The Abyssinians Forward

M10 -320452

There is a certain dramatic density to the production sound on all of the Abysinnians material that sets them apart from all other roots trios. Most of the constituent parts that make up the end product are recognisable as the same engineers and musicians who worked on thousands of sessions through the seventies. A couple of explanations appear likely. Firstly, an invocation of commitment by the sheer quality of the devotional material. And secondly the arrangements of Clive "Azul" Hunt who worked with the trio on many of their greatest songs. He remains one of the most underrated of producers, arrangers and musicians of the era, so much so his contributions are now near undetectable.

These sets have been out before but this French label are hopefully set on a reissue programme which makes all of the Abyssinians catalogue available, but the exclusion of "This Land is for Everyone" from the "Best of" set is unexplained and unforgiven. What does make it though is the original of the immortal "Satta Massa Gana" which the eighteen year old Bernard Collins cut for Clement Dodd in 1969. Whilst Burning Spear's "Door Peeper" evinced a marketing blank, this classic wasn't even issued - at least Coxsone can claim if it wasn't for him these great tunes would never have been recorded. All the tunes on the "Best of" collection are essential to any self-respecting reggae fan, but there again the same can be said of "Forward".

Augustus Pablo Dubbing with the Don


Some controversy now surrounds material coming from this Eat London label, has it all fallen off the back of a barrow or is it kosher? Does the "E.Lee" credit on the album relate to Edward "Bunny" Lee of Kingston or is it Ernie Lee from Dalston? Are these the strokes of the master or the daubs of his lesser pupils? Most of these selections are from Pablo's classic "Rockers" era, in other words from the time of "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" and onwards. Outtakes of tracks such as "Skanking Easy", "Frozen Dub", "Cassava Piece" and "Say So" will make this a must for any fan of the melodica king. But devotees will also recognise that there's more than one cuckoo in the nest with a couple of tunes with seemingly no Pablo connection and others with undetectable differences from already issued versions. Newcomers are advised to seek out more authoritative releases - of which there are many.

Alpha & Omega Dub Philosophy


A&O continue their relationship with the West Coast cyberdub label as they follow up last year's "Mystical Things". Its business as usual soundwise as Christine and John hit the spot with unnerving repetition, one of the few new dub acts who possess a trademark sound - albeit one with the traditional dubwise components, primarily the treated melodica which they have employed since their first outings. Guests include The Disciples, Teacha, Dub Judah and Niska and the vocals are minimised and set adrift in the mix as the processional bass becomes almost a drone. Start anywhere on the board with A&O - the quality of their output remains undiminished.

Burning Spear Spear Burning


Its been a long time coming and the wait was worth it. Pressure Sounds are on something of a roll this year, with more top stuff to come, but this set will surely prove to be the jewel in their catalogue. From the creatively profitable self-produced period that Jah Spear spent in between his time with Clement Dodd (producing two stone classics in "Studio One Presents .." and "Rocking Time") and his commercial breakthrough with the almighty "Marcus Garvey" and the other great Jack Ruby productions which followed. Although some of the songs here are remakes those he laid down at Brentford Road, Spear creates a whole new dimension for the tunes to inhabit, especially the dubs which are so well constructed that the effect is almost like chamber music. No other artist, with the exception of the Abyssinians, have ever come close to assembling a body of work with so much devotional force. This is the first time that these singles releases have been put together for album release, the vinyl version contains a bonus discomix of "Free the whole wide world". Heavenly.

Dubchek Down Memory Gap Lane

UNITONE WORLD 13702-5102-2

A title no doubt derived from the effects of too much THC coursing through the system over the years. But the inclusion of a tune entitled "Ingmar Bergman in Dub (" . the thrill is gone, I'm falling .. why won't you help me ..?") gives clear signals a sense of humour can remain unaffected. Dubchek are a duo lost between Jamaica and New York City. David Barratt from East London with Papa Dee, voice of the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, create a new dub sound with the same lack of self-consciousness as some of their European counterparts, but the beat is slowed-down and the noise is more dense and treacly. Ex-pat West Ham fan Barratt can't resist welcoming a terrace-hailed list of black British footballers onto an irresistible jinky rhythm bed on "Football Dub" which follows the impish "Lee Perry" ("My mama say my daddy was Lee Perry ..") and the set only comes adrift with the weak vocal on eighties pastiche "Gunman".

Headmix Reach Out


Part of the biddly-bong diddly-dong travelling dub massive, Headmix are a real band still on a mission to educate. This new album is produced by Al Scott, also responsible for sets from Eliza Carthy and The Levellers. So the emphasis is largely on the clarity of the vocal and lead instruments, primarily the "speed fiddle" (?). Though no doubt a rousing act live, particulary on the festival scene, somehow this amalgam of wistful vocal, digeridoo and polemic evokes involuntary feelings of nostalgia for those golden days of the Thatcher reign when everybody's prejudices were much more certain.

Twilight Circus Dub Sound System Volcanic Dub


This is Ryan Moore's eighth outing as his dub roots incarnation and it seems that the separation from his industrial hardbeat post-punk past is complete and he has now fully reversioned himself as dubmeister extraordinaire. Throughout this new set there's a half expectation set that vocals from the original recording will leak through, ghost-like in the mix. But these are all "new" rhythms masterminded by Moore using the analogue and tube devices he has hunted down over the years to create the warm deep tones that have all but disappeared with the dominance of digital technology. There's such a dynamic feel to these tracks that's its difficult to believe that their creator is the only musician involved. Still working from the original dub framework, if not starting grid, and retaining the discipline of shorter timeframes, this is as good as newly created dub gets these days.

Various Hi-Fidelity Dub Sessions Presents Roots Combination


Something of a departure for the label as this set features the New York based reggae collective Roots Combination with their line up of singers and DJs, such as Sluggy Ranks, Rob Smyeon and DJ Ruffscott, under the control of producer Ticklah a.k.a. Victor Axelrod. The textures are still smooth but the movement is ways from the urban, house inflected reggae rhythms which the label has done so much to champion over the past few years. Consequently to UK ears this smooth roots style may sound a little outdated and the stricter dub excursions become the album's highlights.

Various Nice Up The Dance - Studio One Discomixes

HEARTBEAT 11661-7665-2

There's a claim made that seventy percent of records released in Jamaica over the last thirty years are in fact versions of songs and rhythms created at Studio One. The fact that this claim can even be debated proves the case that Clement Dodd's studio was the beating heart of the island's music and, although there may have been many other factors, the main source of the influence that reggae has had on many other musics and musicians over the years. The 12" discomix single revived Studio One's own commercial fortunes in the late seventies as many of their hits were revived and extended by the format. This collection by Chris Wilson of Heartbeat is an excellent replay of that era. Cornell Campbell's vocal for "Queen of the Minstrels" fades out after around three minutes of the track and the next six minutes is pure dubbing. This forms the template for the rest of the set which is occupied by such great as Alton Ellis, Horace Andy, Delroy Wilson and Tommy McCook. I've said it before and I'll say it again - sublime!

Various Roots of Dub Funk


Dub Funk Association is Kelvin Richard from North West London and over the past ten years he has often more dub than funk, but two of his four tracks on this set spell out a new maturity. The edgy, claustrophobic "Hustler's Choice" and the slow skank menace of "Hard Back Youth" both emerged as a by-product of Kelvin's camerawork gig on the BBC's documentary series "Heart of Harlesden", an album full of tunes with this impact would put him in a different league. Maybe next time as on this latest album he mixes it up with the introduction of a set of international dubsters - the Technician (Australia), The Interruptor (Switzerland), Messian Dread (Netherlands) and our old friend Dubware (Italy) whilst the UK is primarily represented by its toughest steppers act Alpha & Omega.

Various The Complete Upsetter Singles Collection Volume 4


Another forty eight tracks from Trojan's subsidiary Upsetter label, this time originally released over a twelve month period starting in December 1970, reflecting the machine-like turnaround of tunes and rhythms achieved by Lee Perry as both artist and producer. Many of these tracks have not seen the light of day since their first appearance, most understandably so as Scratch never saw the necessity to balance quality and quantity but just "went for it". Consequently the clutch of unmissable cuts on this volume of the chronological series, like "Newsflash/Flashing Echo", "Cow Thief Skank" and "Babylon Burning", can all be located on killer selections elsewhere. As to be expected from such a documentary approach, there are treats to be found by the committed Perryphile such as Winston Wright's organ-led rare groove "Example Parts 1 & 2" and Dennis Alcapone's great "Master Key". Packaging and notes are up to the same high standard as the previous volumes.