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Monday, March 01, 2004

Dub Review - March 2004




Blood and Fire bust out of their self-imposed seventies roots framework with this tribute to the immortal 'Satta' rhythm. The first cut of the tune was not originally successful when it appeared in 1969 on Studio One as 'Far Far Away'. The story really began in 1971 when recut for the group's own Clinch label as 'Satta Massa Gana' creating one of reggae's most enduring foundation riddims and certainly one of its best loved songs. Using selected Amharic phrases and picking up the then popular Rasta theme of repatriation to an ideally bountiful and peaceful African homeland, the lyrics delivered by the group's minor-key harmonies reflected the powerful yearnings buried under Kingston's turbulent environment. The effect of the twin percussion of bongo men Herman and Les punctuated by the divine brass riff is still guaranteed to mist over the eyes of any reggae fan after all these years. This set collects ten vintage cuts of the rhythm and a further ten more contemporary efforts, and its about as compelling a case as can be presented for the cultural context of rhythm in reggae as a tune outlives generations of styles and fashion and remains just as powerful a plaint in the hands of today's ruffneck DJs. As for the instrumentals, although Tommy McCook's 'Mandela' Latin jazz improv is sexy I would have loved his flute version to be included instead; godfather Ernest Ranglin works his inimitable guitar technique around the melody on 'Ranglin's Satta' and Dean Fraser's 'Dahina Dimps' brings the sound of Kenny G as close to Kingston as its ever going to get. Standout version though is creator Bernard Collins solo rerub where he rightfully assumes the persona of the 'Satta Don' asserting the tune's cultural dominance as ruler in the dance.




The ten inch tide continues unabated with Brooklyn's own Clocktower joining the spree with the reappearance of this great little jazzy 1973 reggae instrumental from the Upsetter's original in-house and band organist Glen Adams in combination with Studio One session guitarist Eric 'Rickenbacker' Frater. Brad Osbourne's Clocktower imprint specialised as a New York outlet for Bunny Lee and Scratch productions, often with contradictory titles and alternative garish packaging to their UK and JA versions. Unlike most of the label's normal more rootsy output this one is a funky wah wah piece in a pre-Morricone way out West style segued into the even spacier dub version. Flip is headlines as 'Macka Dub' with Brad's All Stars aka for this occasion Familyman and Carlton Barrett's and a take on 'Here I am Baby' retitled 'Hawks Theme' coupled with 'Capo Dub' on the rhythm to the Heptones' 'Why did you Leave'. Prince Phillip mixes down both of these in style down at King Tubby's. Alternatively seekers of the true vinyl can turn to Bob Brooks Reggae Revive shop or website and find copies of the original 7" and also another stone corker 'Funky Skank' an even more wired-up strut-worthy tune from Glen Adams - but this time on Clocktower subsidiary Brad's.




Hughie Izachaar is one of that small, elite band of largely unrecognised UK based reggae musicians who could hold his own in any company, largely playing session work or as fill-in on visiting Jamaican bands, its only over the last few years that his name has been coming to the fore. Originating in Trelawny, Jamaica, he's been based in London for many years, lately operating the Reggae On Top label, along with Barry Isaacs, and recording down at the Conscious Sounds studios with the boy Dougie Wardop. His pedigree includes guitar and bass on Shaka's debut set 'Commandments of Dub Chapter 1' and regular spots with the touring Dub Syndicate, Massive Attack and Culture. Although a multi-instrumentalist this new set concentrates on his dedication to the work of the late Augustus Pablo allowing Hughie opportunity demonstrate his well-honed melodica skills in tribute to the master. The album kicks off with a speeded-up cover of 'El Rockers' but after that the quality is all down to Hughie, even the improvisation on Spear's 'Swell Headed', proving that despite the odd duff digi-drum sounds his natural sway with a melody would not be out of place on a prime Rockers seven inch.




This is the fourth 'do-it-yourself' rhythm album from the eminent Mr. Ray Hurford, proprietor of that most excellent of reggae websites Small Axe. Ray has always supported reggae of all shades but the appearance of the first album from the Small Axe People came as a shock to many who knew Ray from time back as the sounds he issued bordered on the experimental. And that's indeed what they were, Ray was experimenting with production of the music he loved, a process not much removed from what goes on in any studio - of whatever denomination. So it's to be expected that Ray has 'progressed', moving on from rhythm to riffing, from bassline to melody as his 'Pop A Top' fixation makes a mystical link with the sound of early digital Ujama dub versions. By the end of the new series of rhythm doodles, when we get to final track 'Bourbon Street Skank, we are beginning to expect an hitherto undelivered level of sophistication that's duly delivered by a rolling piano instrumental a la Professor Longhair. But then normal service is resumed as the track comes to an abruptly unexpected, and rather disappointing, halt! Expect robotic Rasta DJs from Ray next.




In 1969 on first hearing 'Return of Django' through a tinny transistor radio or the family's polished walnut Grundig radiogram the Upsetters were perceived as obviously just another one-off throwaway novelty act who us pop pickers would never hear from again. For most people that would turn out to be the case. But those who danced the tune at a disco, or blues, were pummelled by the thudding bass and checked the honking brass sound as not too different from the New Orleans r'n'b that had fired up the hipper clubs for the previous few years, could lay claim to discovering something slightly different. In 1969 an Upsetters' tour of the UK was promoted by Trojan with a hastily packaged album bearing the title of the hit tune. Many of the tracks were not Upsetters' tunes but products of their earlier incarnation the Hippy Boys, often wedged in a style between the Champs and the Meters with the occasional wackiness of Bumble B & the Stingers as in the treatment of 'Moonlight Bay' reversioned as 'Ten to Twelve' (not 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon' as the usually impeccable Dave Katz claims in the otherwise excellent up to par notes!). The New Orleans Scratch connection is sustained by the title based on Chris Kenner's 'Sick and Tired' hit and 'Medical Operation', a take on the Meters' 'Sophisticated Cissy'. The eight bonus tracks are a real treat for Scratch fans with unreleased and alternate takes, including 'Give Love a Try' Pat Kelly's original vocal cut to the beautiful instrumental 'Soulful I'.




With the demise of their European distributor and after five years of fearlessly supporting all shades of dubwise expression Portland's BSI (Bucolic Sound Institute) Records have reluctantly decided to pull the plug. With characteristic swagger they throw this final offering out into the cruel world. The mix of out-of-print 'b' sides, rare vinyl only tracks, favourites and a few odd new ones typify the labels generous approach to the artists it has supported and upholds its philosophy of uniting dub sounds of all generations and definitions. The collapsing beats of Muslimgauze ('Catacomb Dub') and the strung-out spaces of Pan American ('East Coast Bugs') represent the outer edges whilst UK premier dubmeisters Alpha & Omega ('Wounded') and Jah Warrior ('Peter Broggs' 'I Put My Trust in Dub') define stricter visions of the art of version. Phase Selector Sound System and Ben Wa both contribute their tracks from what was perhaps BSI's finest moment the mix album 'Docking Sequence' (BSI015) and Alter Echo's 'alter-echo.com' from an XLR8R promo CD implies a yearned for space between junglism, breakbeat and dub. No doubt all the artists represented here will carry on making new music, sad to see this fine access route closed off.




Compiled by Mark Ainley from Honest Jon's and issued quietly on the shop's more bashful PK imprint this is a collection of material, both issued and unissued, from Oswald Creary's Toronto-based Half Moon label and production company. Creary was an old Trenchtown spar of Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes, they both followed Prince Buster around Kingston's studios but spent more time cutting cloth or building bikes. The two friends later met up in New York from where Creary decanted to Toronto in a draft dodge move, going on to establish successful mixdown and pressing facilities in the city. Toronto's late seventies/early eighties reggae scene is occasionally acknowledged but not much is really known about the background, perhaps this important set will begin to redress the balance. Although names like Joe Higgs, Stranger Cole and Leroy Sibbles, who all appear here, are legend in reggae circles, it's the other more obscure artists who lend the set its appeal. Pluggy Satchmo's '23rd Psalm', Bongo Ossie & the Moonlights' 'Black Society', Bingi Kicks' 'Sky Jack', Rothadam's 'Sampson' and versions from the Super 8 Corporation all explore the outer fringes of roots in a manner that at times can only be explained as Ra-esque. Although the less than 100% sound quality on a couple of the tracks may explain their 'unissued' tag, the lasting freshness, honesty, joy and devotion shining throughout these recordings is enough to sustain both hardcore reggae fans and devotees of 'other' musics alike. But beware the trappings of the physical grasshopper! - The dayglo silkscreen DIY-style CD packaging may very well fall apart on opening, go for the vinyl instead.




Silver Camel started out as a little sound system in and around the UK midlands in the mid seventies who eventually linked up with the Daddy Kool reggae shop in London's Soho to start a joint venture production and label business that ran through into the early eighties. Rekindled interest in all things dancehall provoked the reissue of singjay Billy Boyo's hardcore chat set 'Zim Zim' (Silver Camel BB5640) a couple of years back and now the re-emergence of this great roots showcase set where all the tracks come with a mix of vocal, DJ and/or dub. Eight tracks in all book ended at the start by Cornell Campbell's Rasta conversion of John Holt's 'My Heart is Gone' into the devotional 'I Heart is Clean' followed by the truly classic Tubby's version 'Zinc Fence Dub' and at the close by a production from the late Augustus Pablo with perhaps the most deeply viscous and mesmerising of all his rhythms voiced by Paul Blackman as 'Earth, Wind and Fire' and echoed by the melodica king as 'Ras Menelik Congo'. Other material comes from Moa Anbessa with two tunes on the Mighty Threes, Jah Thomas on Linval Thompson and Barry Brown and two self-productions by Phillip Fraser including 'Blood of the Saint' on the timeless 'Real Rock' rhythm.