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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dub Review - December 2005




As influential a figure in the development of Jamaican music as Clement Dodd and Duke Reid, Sister Ignatius was the small, seemingly unassuming figure who ran Kingston’s Alpha Boys School for wayward boys creating not only Jamaica's 'Nursery For Brass Band Music' but the seedbed that sustained many of reggae’s most creative artists.

Sister Ignatius died shortly before the school celebrated its 125th anniversary and this CD is fitting tribute both to her and the establishment that was synonymous with her name. The album kicks off with the great Bertie King’s ‘Blue Lou’, recorded on his return from the UK when he was invited to lead the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation’s first permanent studio band, and continues with Joe Harriott and Dizzy Reece who also honed their skills in London’s jazz community. Continuing through a selection of jump r’n’b, ska, rocksteady, reggae roots and lovers with a literal who’s who of the islands most celebrated instrumentalists before gliding back to the coolest of jazz with Harold McNair’s Kirkian spoken flute instrumental ‘The Hipster’. A pure joy right through to finale, ‘Upward and Onward We Go’ from the actual Alpha Boys Band. Contributions can best be made to the school’s fine work by purchase of an excellent set of coasters reproduced from the records labels of Sister Ignatius’ collection at http://www.alphaboysschool.com/



Waterhouse boy O’Neill ‘Andrew Bees’ Beckford cut this tune in the early nineties and it came across like an audition demo tape for the lead spot in Black Uhuru – a tough call following Michael Rose, Junior Reid, Don Carlos and Duckie Simpson but he actually managed to occupy the position for a while - notably with the ‘Unification’ and ’Dynasty’ albums - before Rose’s return. ‘Militant’ runs on a bubbling digital rhythm cut at Kingston’s Leggo Studios in 1993 with an exhilarating skipping Bees vocal in early Michael Rose soundalike style, but it’s the dub that cuts it as the bass assumes ascendancy over the electro twiddles. Two contemporary tunes, ‘Things A Gwaan’ and ‘Life In The Ghetto’ make up the flip on this excellent series determined to rectify the missing years of early digital roots.




Bush Chemists Dougie ‘Conscious’ Wardrop and Paul Davey have been around the UK dub reggae scene before nu roots became a recognisable sub genre. The Conscious Sounds label and later studio became recognisable stamps of quality for new legions of dubheads. Unlike his immediate forebears and influences at Ariwa, On U Sound and not forgetting Shaka, Dougie picked up the d-i-y digital studio environment punkstyle in the creation of new dub forms whilst at the same time displaying a clear knowledge and reverence for the classic warmer roots styles. As a consequence his output hasn’t changed much in direction over the years but has got tougher, cleaner and spacier with driving rhythms only modified by the occasional appearances of the sublime brass of the Lover Grocer boys. This set of new rhythms, following up previous ROIR release from ten years ago, is released ‘Brand’-style before the vocal cuts and will be re-versioned for a further series of ten inch domestic releases in the UK with singers Ras McBean, Lutan Fyah, Pablo Diamond and Jonah Dan who float around here in the mixes. The closest ally sonically to Bush Chemists is the later digital work of Pablo, but whereas Pablo retained a meditative edge the Chemists can’t resist the physical potentials in the mix as in the thumping ‘Speaker Rocker’ and the crunching repro hi-hats in ‘Oriental Style’. And on ‘Rubber Dub’, not for unsuspecting weakhearts, the beats per minute accelerate to dubcore velocity, maybe a new sub-genre in the making?




Any dance genre that rolls back the bpm count and strikes against the painful hegemony of the deathstar that his house music is OK by me. Currently Dubstep seems to be in the process of painless cellular separation from Grime with the former burrowing downwards into the darker regions and the later content to seek the spotlight, dry ice and all. DJ Hatcha opened the account with the first volume in the series, now whilst Kode9 is in Hyperdub refuge the stage is set for D1, Loefah, Skream and Digital Mystikz for seamless jointing at the hands of the twenty year old Rinse FM DJ Youngsta. As previously all tunes here are fresh off dubplate onto the mix, although at time of writing Digital Mystikz ‘Neverland’ has just appeared on DMZ vinyl. On this showing the sonics here are more indebted to Detroit than Kingston, xanax’d UR, but in the mix it’s the dub aesthetic that dominates with bass scoured deep into the groove and space stretched into time. If there’s one artist that needs to be separated out here its Loefah who may every well be the link between Kodo drums and Miami bass on his tracks ‘Goat Stare’ and ‘Root’ where the impulse to fall into the chasmic gaps between the beats can become a little too physically tempting at times. Although this set may be another essential the only way to do this is by vinyl.




A deep sense of unwanted comfort ensues as the album opens with yet another dub of ‘Love Me Forever’ but the solo horn improvising on the old reggae standard freshens up the version. This is a contemporary dub companion to this year’s Jah Thomas production ‘Big Dance a Keep’ featuring vocals from Jnr Moore, D'Aville, Lone Ranger, Josey Wales, Nemo, and Peter Metro. The Firehouse Crews’ double drumming rhythms on ‘Few More Dubs’ disturbs the flow but their highlife treatment of ‘More We are Together’ as ‘Together in Dub’ recalls one of African Head Charge’s more cheesy outings. The Roots Radics’ ‘Gimme Dub’ is stretched way beyond its bare three minutes as engineer Nigel Burrell applies layer after layer of reverb. Although mafia and Fluxy are also in attendance the set doesn’t get beyond a pleasant but unremarkable set of old school dubbing essential only if you love the vocal album from which it is derived.




Junior Delgado’s untimely death robbed the reggae world of one of its most distinctive voices and a career that was far from over, given his latest work and the revival of an impeccable back catalogue via his own Incredible Music label. I must confess some reluctance in approaching this Trojan collection given the recent availability of much of his greatest sides but the first half is a real treat with the Scratch produced ‘Africa We are Going Home’ from Time Unlimited followed by ‘Mi Nuh Matta’ a take on ‘My Conversation’ with Junior as El Cisco Delgado and then one of his finest moments the murderous extended version of ‘Sons of Slaves’ cut at the Black Ark at its highest height. With ‘23rd Psalm’, ‘Tition’ and ‘Devil’s Throne’ immediately following roots music just doesn’t get any better. Unfortunately the second half takes an inevitable plunge in quality with a bunch self-produced material from 1988 as Junior coasts through self-penned but undistinguished material on standard digi-rhythms that fall far short of matching his gigantic vocal talents.




At last the Blood and Fire boys unleash the killer Far I set that’s been on the boil all year. Opening with an absolute hen’s tooth of a gem, a version of the Slickers’ rude boy warning "Johnny Too Bad" voiced for producer/engineer Syd Bucknor, released in 1973 on blank label entitled "Johnny Get Worse" and sometimes credited to Jazzbo. From there on in the album refuses to let up till Far I’s last gruff chant. In 1975 the DJ cut tunes for Pete Weston as ‘Prince For I, "Yes Joshua" (the prophet ‘Joshua’ being the street reference to Prime Minister Michael Manley of the People’s National Party) appears here as does the title track and its version. It was around this time that Far I started his own label Cry Tuff inspired by Alton Ellis’ great tune ‘Cry Tough’ and reflecting his early DJ incarnation as King Cry Cry. Early releases from the label are here, including ‘354 Skank’ and its dub, the Roots Radics’ bassist Errol Holt’s vocal on ‘Who Have Eyes To See’ and its deejay take ‘Talking Rights’, and Holt’s ‘Gimme’ answered by the deejay version Far I’s "Zion Call". Also featured are 1977’s ‘Things Nuh Bright’ and the DJ version of Little Roy’s "Tribal War" called "No More War". Look out for Dick Jewell’s as yet unseen photos of Far I from the time stylistically echoing some contemporary album covers. More good new is that there must be at least one more album of vintage Far I material awaiting the revivalists’ tender touch.




Originally only released in Jamaica on the Paradise label back in 1977 the master tapes for the Travellers only album were rediscovered by King Jammy earlier this year. Primarily known for the title track of this set, and occasionally as the Mighty Travellers, the group was patronised by the then Prince Jammy who had such faith in them that he hired Harry J’s with Sly and Robbie and the Aggrovators and Channel One and Joe Gibbs with Chinna’s High Times Band, and returned to Tubby’s for the vocal mix. Unfortunately the faith was not repaid in sales as the ensuing singles and albums did not find favour with a market that was beginning to move away from both roots and harmonies towards the sturdier dancehall style. Any fans of the sweeter sounds of the Diamonds or Carton and the Shoes will fall for this mix of roots and lovers tunes, and although the production and delivery outweigh the songwriting it turns out that the four vintage Prince Jammy dubs are the real find. ‘How Long Version’ starts unusually with just a bass line then the echoed guitar chop before the rhythm drops with fading vocals that reappear through the building mix where the reverbs are twisted off-key – about as near as the normally restrained Jammy got to Scratch-style lunacy. The persistent muscular rhythm of the extended one-drop closer ‘We Got to Leave’ gives a clue to Jammy’s soon come direction change. Strange that the dub to the title is missing as it bears the classic intro: ‘Travellers under heavy manners and discipline y’all …’, maybe soon come as a single revive then?




Lifting their album title from a tune on Black Uhuru’s ‘Anthem’ album wouldn’t necessarily occur as anything other than mutant evolutionary absorbtion by Sonarcotik, as the sound system collective from Marseille that gives refuge to a bunch of sonic misfits attracted by the throbbing hub of dub and the outer perimeters of what shouldn’t really be called hip hop any longer. ‘Dread snipers in a roots tradition’, its as if these artists were conceived in a fevered game programmer’s mind after attending an all night George Romereo festival, dumb and dirty digital low-fi abuse at play, er, ..what’s this button for? - I give you Raptus, Yboz, Izmo, Oncle Akai and D.Fek! Now that Alec Empire seems to be going soft on us by loading his ‘catalogue’ onto iTunes we need these guys to mount the remaining sonic ramparts.




Roy Cousins is one of the few artist/producers who would have both the right and the balls to list the set of sonic luminaries this album claims as engineers. For Roy has steadfastly retained control over his output which was substantial and from the vaults of his Tamoki Wambesi and Dove imprints comes this thumping dub compilation that showcases some rare and previously unreleased mixes but also dub versions of some tracks from the producer’s ‘Roots of David’ album and Scientist’s ‘King of Dub’. Includes tracks from King Tubby, disciples Scientist and Jammy, Errol Thompson, Ernest Hoo-Kim, Sylvan Morris and young guns from the final days of roots reggae Crucial Bunny, Soljie, Professor and Barnabus. But if Roy really expects us to believe that some of these mixes date from 1967 then we would be re-writing reggae history. In fact the credit to Scratch only happens as editor in chief, the Minister of Noise, drops in an odd sample or two on a Tubby’s mix. That’s not to detract from what’s happening here though which is a cracking set of twenty dubs from the real masters at work.