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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Dub Review January 2008

10ft Ganja Plant
A digital reissue of 10ft. Ganja Plant's debut I-Plant album via their present home with ROIR in NYC - with the addition of two extra bonus tracks. They could be from New England, they could be from Hawaii, but from the sound of these tunes their hearts belong somewhere in the smokey hills of Clarendon, Jamaica, these boys are no stylistic regurgitators of sixties instrumentals a la the Upsetters ("Off Road Version") and Rupie Edwards ("Sunny Foundation") or seventies dubwise outings in the style of the Professionals ("Jah Will Go On") or Soul Syndicate ("Rebel in the Hills") as its clear from the pure joyous swing of these tunes that these guys just love playing. No vocalists are credited for the rootswise vocal "Jah Teach I A Lesson" but the impression is of a prime harmony group such as the Meditations, with whom they later worked, or the Wailing Souls. Maybe the band's name comes across as a little too gimmicky for some but in reality reflects their good time view of the music, and this album proves they started out as good as they are today – check "Bass Chalice" from 2005.

Jah Creation / Jah Creation Version
Native & Little Madness
Mother Country / Mother Country version
The little known artist Creole was responsible for the Channel One single "Beware" whose rhythm begat the legendary "Kunte Kinte", a dubplate that owned London's sound systems through the 80's. A ten inch extended version of "Beware" was recently repressed by the label but the sound was thin; more advisable then to go directly to "Jah Creation" a roots rarity repressed from the 70's. This rhythm was originally revived by Rough Trade on "Well Charged", one of their excellent reggae cassette showcases, but appearing as an instrumental "Shaka the Great" by the Overnight Players, a horn drenched militant march along the lines of slowed down Aswad's "Warrior Charge". Originally pressed on the Arab label, "Mother Country" and its dub are lifted from the album of Tommy Cowan productions Life Goes in Circles; standing alone this is a really fine example of roots filtered through a sensibility equally attuned to West Coast rock. The arrangement on the version is a classy effort with thirty seconds of bass and two false start drums rolls before the skeletal rhythm kicks in and the low end pervades the track with a couple of stark efx-less vocal acapellas studding the mix.

Immigration Dub
Now on their tenth album since 1990 and claiming an unashamed right to an On U Sound lineage Dubblestandart go as far as to cover Dub Syndicates's "Wadada (Means Love)", Little Axe's "Grinning in Your Face" – itself an appropriation from Delta blues legend Son House and even the opener quotes the Jim Morrison sample from "Stone Immaculate" on "We All Have to Get High" featuring Devon D. Centred in Vienna, a city with a claim to be the European home of bass, the band now have an easy confidence, enough to mess with Tapper Zukie's "MPLA" and Horace Andy's "Money", but they really prove themselves when freed from all those other connections and launching out on the slower grooves such as the title track (in two versions) and the instrumental dub "Dub 51". The album hits its peak with the live brass section, a comparative luxury in the studio these days, and also when UK mash-up king J-Star gets the privilege of deploying his skills on the final track "Island Girl" where Ari Up reasserts her rights as post-modern dancehall queen.

General Echo
Teacher Fe Di Class (1979-1980)
It's generally thought that General Echo aka Ranking Slackness has his full fifteen minutes as a proponent of 'slack' reggae ( i.e. risqué, rude and sometimes just plain offensive), climaxing with 1980's "12 Inches of Pleasure". The facts are that 'slackness' has always been a part of reggae as much as roots and lovers etc and that prior to his notoriety the General in question produced much of rootical quality to which this compilation is testament. Basically as reissue of 1979's Rocking and Swinging produced by Dudley 'Ja-Man' Swaby with the additionof 10 bonus tracks, and in total five dubs lifted from their source 45's. Echo's seemingly casual style belies his great facilty on the mic as a chatter, his development of 'asides' as he delivers a commentary was actully an early clue to the new direction of dancehall when DeeJays would dominate, exemplified here by the opener "Titanic" on the rhythm of Carlton Patterson's "Weathman Skank"; "Oil In A Babylon" displays an unlikely prescience – even a few years before Bunny Wailer's "Arab Oil Weapon", proving Echo not slouch when it came to DeeJay social responibility! This is the debut release on Equalizer Records, launched by Steve Barrow following the sad demise of Blood and Fire, to come are sets by Early B, Peter Ranking and General Lucky, and Big Joe.

Ghetto Priest
Beyond Flesh
As a late entrant to the On U stable of occasional artists Ghetto Priest had access to the likes of Sly and Robbie, Lee Perry and African Head Charge via the patronage of Adrian Sherwood, finally leading to his current stint fronting Asian Dub Foundation. For this album though he returns to the vanguard of the UK roots scene as the set is structured as a showcase, version following vocal, with the dubs engineered and mixed by Dougie Wardrop down at the Conscious Sounds studio. "Struggle" uses the unstoppable "Kunte Kinte" rhythm, whereas "Self Analysis" adapts Devon Irons' Scratch produced spaced stepper "Ketch Vampire" even unto the dubbed horns and slouchy trombone, it's a beautiful dub by Dougie. Elsewhere Ghetto Priest's lyrics can tend towards the trite as on the display of Reader's Digest strain of self-awareness on the vacuous "Ras Budha" (sic) or an indolent roots by numbers approach as on "A Child" where unsurprisingly 'life is not a gamble' and it seem that once more 'the road is rocky'. Maybe re-programming as a dub album is the way to go.

Habitat Sound System
Meets Prince Zohar and the Mystics
Cutting through the tangled mess of "Black Sugar Dub", this album's opening track, is tough work; the effect is like a prog rock band locked in a studio cellar for 30 years wandering by mistake into a practice session by a skunked-out West Coast reggae band who have been up all night searching for the perfect bleat. It takes some sweat to make it through to the clearing that is "Eritrean Lovers Dub", a nod to Pablo. Produced by Prince Zohar aka Preston Swirnoff at his San Diego studio and mastered with additional mixes by the Mad Professor at Ariwa Studio in London, the feel harks back to those post-punk adventures that were more 'interesting' in the heady days of their creation rather than on playback, especially those strangulated vocals at the back of the mix. Apparently Zohar prefers real instrumentation, analog decks and vintage efx to recreate some of the thrill of early dubmasters – "Hard Rope Dub" apes a Perryesque densely jogging percussion - but there is a distinct lack of space in the mixes which are a clear case of dub for dub's sake.

Kush Arora
From Brooklyn to S.F.
At first this album might seem like one of those unnatural cultural collisions that fall uncomfortably between its varied influences and sources, until one remembers that's what has always made reggae and dub a living music and was at the heart of its creation. A big step forward from his last set "Bhang Ragga" SF's Kush Arora has widened his scope taking in a much deeper low end with more marked dubwise and dubstep component intersecting the more ferocious ragga beats as on Zulu's "Spread the Word". Together with Zulu, Juakali takes the main vocals here and besides them the raps of N4sa and Blacksmith come across as lame and old fashioned. Kush teams with a trio of Bay Area producers of bass for the most impressive tracks here: Luke Argilla for "Surf's Up", by now an established classic of sub-genre splice as a surfin' dubstep western raga; with Maneesh the Twister (sounds like a name from an Alexander Korda movie! exploring the dense forest of UK digi-stepperdom on "Surya Dub" – a dub but with Gurmeet on vocals and with Process Rebel on "Boss Strut Dub" recreating a dirty electronic version of what sounds like a (Mark Stewart & the) Maffia rhythm.

Ujama Productions
Replay Version
Every DeeJay has to have a trademark vocal sound, Prince Jazzbo's was a visceral groan emanating down low and rumbling into the air as a mighty roar. One might have assumed that the digital era would spell the end for such a primeval specimen but Jazzbo recast the radical inventions of youth through some remarkable releases on his own Ujama label (Swahili for 'self help'). Rather than the jump-up unbridled lunacy spawned by the 'Sleng Teng' riddim, tunes on Ujama tended to be loping, half-steps, with sparse synth shapes and stabs and nakedly shuddering bass lines. Of the four dub versions here "Once Bitten" is from the 7" single by Dennis Walks, "Senci Addick" from Horace Ferguson's ganja submission and "Senci Pipe" from Jazzzbo's own mouth – they are all brutally mixed, tense affairs with little embellishments, contrasting with the title track that sounds of a later vintage with its faux electro pan sounds and whose provenance is unknown (at least to this writer). Many of the singles and albums from Ujama's catalgue are still available via specialist dealers and this excellent release will surely spark a surge in sales.

Basic Replay 1
The collaboration of Berlin's bass-besotted Rhythm & Sound boys' cutting ability with the acuity of the selections sourced by Honest Jon's Mark Ainley has made for one of the most exciting and educational strains of reggae revival of the past couple of years. This set represents almost every release so far, mostly deep, deep twelve inch cuts that fully replicate the sonic assault of the original cuts, nowhere more so than on Chester Roots and Ackie's "Call Me Rambo", a 1986 monster that may be problematic heard over the bog standard domestic hi-fi but on big bass bins you find yourself ducking the artillery in a sonic warzone. Productions are mainly digital but the most extreme exploration is offered by Keith Hudson's steam infused "Hunting", from his much earlier album Flesh Of My Skin, Blood Of My Blood from 1974, best described as 'swamp reggae'! Chuck Turner's ultra urgent "Trying To Conquer I" is here with its chainsaw rhythm, Jackie Mittoo is on the bill as a heavyweight with "Ayatollah" and Jazzbo's "Replay Version" is a late entry.