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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Dub Review - May 2008

Due to multiple releases following its recording in 1976 this set of tunes can also be found as Satta Massagana or Forward on to Zion but the Azul imprint belonged to the album's producer and arranger Clive "Azul" Hunt and has never been reissued on CD in this original format – only within a wider ranging Heartbeat compilation. It's no exaggeration to say this is one of the stone classics, not only of the vocal group genre but within the whole of reggae. Clive Hunt and the Abyssinians, that's the Manning brothers Linford and Donald together with Bernard Collins, took some of the group's tunes debuted on Studio One in altogether more folksy arrangements and gave them a whole new sheen and a depth not afforded by earlier studio facilities. With the definitive versions of "Declaration of Rights" and the anthemnic title track the album is essential to any vaguely serious reggae collection.

Bishob meets Manjul
Get Up and Try
Makafresh CD
Of late there's been some really excellent new reggae under development in Africa, moving away from the all too pervasive shadow of Jah Bob into newer territory, best epitomised by artists such as Takana Zion from Guinea, Koko Dembali from Mali and Jahman Eselem from Cameroon. Foremost among these is now Bishob courtesy of his collaboration with Manjul with material recorded in that producer's Bamako based studio, the Humble Ark where the Dub to Mali project was developed, bringing together roots reggae, dub and Mandingo traditions. The strengths of this new set are that it's a vocal album followed by most of the companion dubs, Bishob avoids overuse of his melismatic vocal abilities and allows the writing escapes from the staple Rasta diet and a full range of instrumentation is brought into play that in turn allows a sexing-up of the dubs. So "Culture of Racism" and its dub is binghi'd up after an Roland Kirk style breathy flute intro is usurped by a soaring horn section and "Lover's Appeal" is a straight modern reggae r'n'b fusion as far as the vocal goes but bedded by a rhythm that could have come from Chinna Smith's High Times Band circa 1984.

DJ Jamaica
Inna Fine Dub Style
The Jamaican Recordings label has come in for a fair amount of stick from this column and other commentators justifiably querying the provenance of some of their product however of late they appear to be coming more correct – in quality although in reggae business ownership is always at issue. This set is a great collection of the 'b' sides of DJ versions selected because of the prominence of the chat through the track, whether echoed out or reverbed in, plus visiting ghosts of the original vocal tracks two. Given that the dubplate extra effects at play here are proven to be a main attraction in dub this is a smart move. In addition there's some great picks here, too many to mention in fact but top of the stack is a Prince Jazzbo variation of his Ujama side "Well Seed" but on top of a vocal "Good Memories", four cuts from the all too elusive Shorty the President including "Control Dub" a killer rockers version to "Natty Roots" and Dennis Alcapone in the act with exaggerated vocal efx applies to his chat on John Holt's "Stick by Me". Wisely avoiding the 'various artists' tag whereby worthy albums get stuffed in the back of the rack hopefully this will grab the attention of the legion of waiting roots DJ fans.

Earth, Roots & Water
Innocent Youths
Earth, Roots & Water were singled out in this column from Light in the Attic's Summer Records Story, this is their 1977 debut and only album marking the final issue of the label's 'Kingston to Toronto' series. Initially formed as the house band for Jerry Brown's Jammy-wired basement studio, schooling came via the heavy-duty rhythms demanded by the likes of Leroy Sibbles, Stranger Cole and Jackie Mittoo. The band were relatively short-lived having to contend with the local reggae audience's perception that Jamaican product was superior to Canada's; in retrospect though this material stands proud amongst most of its contemporaries, maybe the rock background of some of the musicians provides a less orthodox approach but a track like "Liberation" could easily be stamped as 'Black Ark' with its alternative channel running a countervailing steamy ambience and "Lou Sent Me" coming across as Gil Scott-Heron's secret meeting with Lou Rawls. It's a real find for lovers of off-centre roots, but the downside is the album's relative brevity at just over thirty minutes when another four dubs are marketed as 'bonus' out of iTunes.

The Lions
Jungle Struttin'
A dub-inspired loose conglomeration drawn from the mainly funk players of Breakestra, Connie Price & the Keystones, Rhythm Roots All-Stars, Orgone and Madlib's Sound Directions could very well be a recipe for fusion confusion but proceeding with a clear respect for those who provided their influences meant the result worked out as a remarkably fresh set of tunes whose provenance could have easily originated thirty years ago. Perhaps the best evidence is Noelle Scaggs bouncing rocksteady version of Lynn Collins "Think", although not really respresentative of the rest of the set which consists of horns-led instrumentals reminiscent of the crossover grooves of Boris Gardiner or Byron Lee whilst the rootsier end of things is represented by the Upsetterrish "Lankershim Dub" or the Ossiefied "Ethio-Steppers". This CD will be kept near the decks till summer when its time will truly come.

Little Harry / Billy Boyo / Nicodemus
DJ Clash – 3 The Hard Way
Greensleeves CD
Originally released on 2 vinyl albums – Nicodemus vs Toyan and Little Harry vs Billy Boyo – the Toyan cuts are now on the refurbished How the West was Won, this is real original dancehall raggamuffin stuff with these boys delivering strictly slo-step chats on no-nonsense stripped for purpose classic rhythms rebuilt by the High Times Band and Roots Radics. The emergence of the 'child DJ' underlined the change in tastes from 'old fashion' roots to the rawer bone styles of dancehall, with starkly minimal and uncluttered mixes on the rhythm with little embellishment apart from the emphasis on occasional drum drops and guitar chops. Nicodemus, from Socialist Roots sounds, was the elder and ruffer of the three here, renowned for his "Boneman Connection" hit for Greensleeves; of the other two scallies Little Harry came to prominence winning the 1981 Skateland National DJ Competition whilst Billy Boyo was related to producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes and graduated through on Volcano Sounds.

Long Time Burning
Dublin based DJ Naphta is occupying those vast spaces left over by the short-lived i-riginal junglists and early breakbeat scenesters from the early nineties, in fact there's more contemporary jungle these days due to the global longevity of the drum and bass than the whole catalogue from back then. Naptha resurrects the art of the dancehall loop but then strings a whole series of post d'n'b devices into the mix of this debut set so its not just straight ahead breaks; so after the ambient interlude of the drifting "Upriver" further experimentation may not appear as blunt, so the long drone intro and bass wobbling on "Soundclash 1 (VIP Mix) becomes almost half-expected as is the industrialized closer "Long Story". The attraction of the album becomes the double crossover into both real tunes as on "My Heart Beating" and into extreme dance as on "Street Dancing" a crazed batacuda with muffled acid synth bassline, nicely schizoid.

Necessary Intergalactic Cooperation
N.I.C. in Dub
Ted Parsons, he of Swans and Prong lineage, has relocated himself out of NYC to Norway – where better to start a globally inclined dub experiment. Actually this exercise began back in 2006 in collaborative recording sessions between Scotty Hard and Keith Levene and the end result follows N.I.C. members working up the tracks for final mixdown – handed on to a disparate bunch of dub affiliates such as Youth, Twilight Circus, Dub Gabriel, Dalëk, Spectre the Ill Saint and Jk Flesh (Justin Broadrick) to work out their frustrations, perversions and other inclinations on their choice from the final three tracks. The outcomes veer between uplifting and lugubrious, enlightening and depressing, save to say the more successful attempts come out of love of the dub genre as on Ryan Moore's "#1 Dub" or outright rejection as on Amadou Sall's "Nameless Dub". The album fits squarely into Hammerbass' adventurous catalogue of dub without borders.

Queen Patsy & Stranger Cole
Fabulous Songs of Miss Sonia Pottinger Vol.1
Expensive, but worth it, this comes from the Osaka based Drum & Bass organisation that brought us the excellent series of Prince Buster reissues from a few years back, plus some real Studio One rarities. Sonia Pottinger was the only producer to rival the mighty Duke Reid through the rocksteady period and she had these sides cut at Ken Khouri's Kingston's Federal and George Benson's WIRL Recording Studios and feature solo sides from Stranger Cole, Millicent 'Patsy' Todd, Stranger and Patsy as a duo and also a few tunes from the Seraphines, a duo consisting of Stranger and his friend Gladdy (Gladdy Anderson, more famous as pianist in many foundation bands). The music is a mix of pure early rocksteady ("Your Photograph), some interesting outings where its ska fading into a rocksteady pace ("We Shall Overcome") and a few more US r'n'b inflected tunes ("A Man is Two Faced". It's as beautifully produced set as might be expected from these seriously committed Japanese fans that put the music first.

System Error feat. Mykal Rose / Dub Terror
Time Bomb / Dub
Featuring the instantly recognisable vocal gymnastics of the ex Black Uhuru singer this is the debut release from Greek artist System Error. The main side lyrics deals with the increasing global restrictions on personal freedom whilst the flipside's Dub Terror (aka Simone Lombardi) mixed dubwise cut mirror images Rose's ruminations using samples from terror incidents in London, another suffocating impact on the daily business of life in the capital. It's a crisp production in the faster paced steppers style in which Mykal Rose is so at home these days. For contrast check the totally abstract "Shoot Out" that's around at the moment produced by Jammy's son, John John.

UK Dub Story
Leicester's Stevie Vibronics makes the point that the UK dub scene is the sub-level of underground music in the UK; and he's right of course, with more sound systems playing than ten years ago, or even in the heyday of roots, across the British Isles and Europe. Spilling into this scene now are those who are merging out of the d'n'b, breaks, dubstep and other still thriving sub-genres, much as the rave devotee chilled out in to Tubbys in the early morning hours back in the 90s – maybe that's where the title of "Dawn Chorus" comes from. Guests on this set include the Mad Professor's old spar Macka B, UK's answer to Brigadier Jerry or Charlie Chaplin but confining himself to conscious lyrics and its great to hear his distinctively smokey voice on "Tired of the War", Vibronics in-house DJs Echo Ranks and Jah Marnyah appear on "Long Time Dub" and "King's Highway Dub" respectively – so expect the full vocal to appear on 7" format later in the year. The pace is slowed down with atmospherics rather than explosions on "Night Storm" and "Dub Lalibela" with the set being rounded off with "Digital Revolution" a tribute to the technology that gave dub its extended life span.