Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Legendary Jamaican Guitarist Ernest Ranglin Returns with Another Great Album

[republished from Lucid Culture’s sister blog New York Music Daily]

You don’t ordinarily expect octogenarians to make great albums. If they do, they usually revisit their earlier work, a victory lap. Count Ernest Ranglin among the rare exceptions. The greatest guitarist ever to come out of Jamaica has a new album, Bless Up (streaming online), which is one of his best, and he’s made a whole bunch of them. It’s has a lot more straight-up reggae than the elegant reggae jazz he’s known for (and basically invented all by himself). It also has a more lush, full sound than his previous album, Avila. That one was recorded on the fly during a break from a reggae festival; this one has more tunesmithing than vamping jams, drawing on the seven decades of Jamaican music that in many ways Ranglin has defined.

Organ – played by either Jonathan Korty or Eric Levy – holds the center on many of the tracks here, Ranglin adding judicious solos, alternating between his signature, just-short-of-unhinged tremolo-picked chords, sinewy harmonies with the keys, nimbly fluttering leaps to the high frets and references to the better part of a century’s worth of jazz guitar. The songs transcend simple, rootsy two-chord vamps. Darkly majestic, emphatic minor-key horn arrangements evocative of mid-70s Burning Spear carry the melody on several of the numbers: Bond Street Express, the opening tune; Jones Pen, which recreates the classic 60s Skatalites sound but with digital production values; and Rock Me Steady, the most dub-flavored track, driven by some neat trap drumming.

Mystic Blue evokes both the Burning Spear classic Man in the Hills and the Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry. The bubbly Sivan also sounds like Jah Spear, but from a decade or so later. The title track is a swing tune, more or less, Ranglin’s upstroke guitar over a close-to-the-ground snare-and-kick groove giving away its Caribbean origins. Likewise, the band mutates the bolero El Mescalero with a distinctly Jamaican beat that adds a surreal dimension of fun tempered by an unexpectedly desolate Charlie Wilson trombone solo.

Ranglin plays with a deeper, more resonant tone – and a shout-out to Wes Montgomery – on Follow On. Blues for a Hip King works a stately gospel groove up to a long, organ-fueled crescendo that contrasts with Ranglin’s spare, incisive lines. Ska Renzo, the most straight-up ska tune here, works all kinds of neat up/down shifts with reverb-toned melodica, carbonated Rhodes piano and a sharpshooter horn riff. You Too starts out like a balmy Marley ballad but quickly goes in a darker direction, Michael Peloquin’s restless tenor sax giving way to tersely moody solos from trombone and piano, Yossi Fine’s bass holding it down with a fat pulse. There’s also a pretty trad version of the jazz standard Good Friends and the simple gospel vamp Bra Joe from Kilimanjaro, reprised at the end as a long Grateful Dead-like jam. Clearly Jimmy Cliff’s longtime musical director in the years after The Harder They Come hasn’t lost a step since then.

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June 25, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taj Weekes & Adowa – The Best Thing in Roots Reggae Right Now

Taj Weekes is just about the best thing happening in roots reggae right now. The world is full of acts who claim to be inspired by Bob Marley, but the St. Lucia-born bandleader is really on to what Marley meant to reggae. On his new album Waterlogged Soul Kitchen with his band Adowa (named after the famous 19th century battle where the Ethiopians crushed an incursion by Italian imperialists), what Weekes takes from Jah Bob is a tunefulness that goes beyond the usual two-chord vamps, and the kind of arrangements that made the golden age of reggae in the late 70s so unforgettable and fun: layers of sparse, thoughtful Chinna Smith-style lead guitar, melodic bass, the occasional spice of horns and the slinky one-drop from the drums. While Weekes has a similarly high, penetrating voice, his style is hardly a ripoff – it’s a lot closer to the dreamy warmth of Dennis Brown in his more contemplative moments. Weekes’ lyrics range from gently optimistic to scathingly aware: while he resists the categorization of “socially conscious artist,” his insights are all over the place. Weekes has his eyes open, and he doesn’t shy away from trouble.

The album opens with Just a Dream, a defining moment: “Fear, fear, go away, you will come another day,” Weekes sings, not unsarcastically. Likewise, the song’s intro echoes a spaghetti western theme.Yet it’s an upbeat song, an anthem to hold on for better days ahead. The second track, Janjaweed has a catchy rocksteady hook but a chilling lyric about the “malignant seed” that’s terrorized Darfur for what seems like decades now.

B4 the War is a sad, evocative look back “before I was a puppet, before I killed for profit,” lowlit by Chris Laybourne’s vivid flute and a sarcastic bit of a march to end it. Weekes follows with Rain Rain, a pretty, Marleyesque lament, and the requisite ganja tune, Two Joints, an indomitable road trip tale.

You Ain’t Ready for the Heavy has a fat, catchy groove that underplays the defiant challenge of the lyrics and a biting guitar solo that’s like Al Anderson gone to the Middle East. With its simple, swaying mento-flavored acoustic guitar and organ, Anthems of Hope is sort of Weekes’ Redemption Song, a reason to carry on in spite of war on all fronts, the catastrophic effects of global warming and “color coded fear.” Weekes ends up the album with two more evocative antiwar numbers, one with a Jammin-style organ melody and another with the feel of a vintage Toots & the Maytals tune – except that this one’s told from the point of view of a child born of rape in a war somewhere in the third world. The album ends up on a powerful note with Drill, which broodingly and sarcastically riffs on John McCain’s “drill baby drill” mantra. If roots reggae is your thing and you don’t know this guy, you’re missing out. Weekes plays frequent NYC shows, and they are always excellent: watch this space for upcoming dates

August 25, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/21/11

If you think we’ve slacked off here this week, the reality is just the opposite. We’ve just been going out every night. Coming up: great shows from Caithlin De Marrais, Randi Russo, the Oxygen Ponies, Ward White, John Kelly, John Brown’s Body and the Easy Star All-Stars. Is that eclectic or what? In the meantime, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #649:

Serge Gainsbourg – Aux Armes Etcaetera

We probably should have picked this one for 4/20. It’s a counterintuitive one: the poete maudit of French hippie rock rapping in his Gauloise rasp over a deadpan groove supplied by Bob Marley’s band circa 1979. The lyrics only make sense if you understand uncouth 70s French slang, but the imperturbable bounce of the band is irresistible. The famous one here is the title cut, Gainsbourg doing the Marseillaise in a faux dancehall style. Lola Rastaquouere is a French pun (“rastaquouere” ironically means “vagabond,” with an immigrant connotation); Relax Baby Be Cool is fake R&B done almost ska style. Hostility gets out of hand with Brigade Des Stups, the bitter account of a stoner harrassed by the cops, as well as on Des Laids Des Laids (Ugly, Ugly) and Vieille Canaille (Old Bitch). Les Locataires (The Tenants) and Pas Long Feu (Real Soon) are more subtle. The cd reissue comes with an additional disc of outtakes and dub versions: all together, a twisted, weird idea that worked out better than anyone probably could have imagined. Here’s a random torrent.

April 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Burn One in Soho

If you might be wondering why a band would call themselves the Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society, just spell out their initials. Yeah mon – for one reason or another, they played the cd release show for their new one, G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, at the Apple store in Soho. It’s hard to think of a more unlikely venue, and the fact that the store went for the idea turned out to be pure stoner genius. The sound in the little upstairs auditorium was great and so was the band.

The new album is instrumental versions of the songs on the Wailers’ famous Catch a Fire album. G.R.A.S.S. put their own original spin on them. More unpredictable and adventurous than Dub Is a Weapon, more straight-ahead than Giant Panda, less jazzy than Monty Alexander, the hourlong show saw them sticking pretty much to the verses and choruses of the originals while adding their own solos and some extended psychedelic jamming that was tasty to the extreme. Their sound is strictly oldschool, anchored by a onetime Jack Grace Band rhythm section, J. Granelli on bass and Russ Meissner (who’s still in that band) on drums. Granelli spent most of his time hanging just behind the beat like Family Man Barrett would do in Marley’s band, while Meissner kept things simple and smart, on one occasion hitting a pedal for some echoey dubwise riddims. Keyboardist Nate Shaw spun between effects, from high, oscillating Dr. Dre drones to lush organ chords, while his counterpart across the stage, Nick Balaban, worked edgy blues piano, murky clavinova basslines and some scary, tinny synth leads into a neat tradeoff with Shaw on a long, extended version of 400 Years.

After a long, suspenseful, sustained guitar intro by David Bailis, Paul Carlon’s bright, melodic soprano sax lines lit up the opening tune, Concrete Jungle. Shaw’s melodica dodged the torrents from David Barnes’ harmonica on a long, crescendoing take of Baby We Got a Date; they turned Kinky Reggae and Midnight Ravers into a mini-suite with some sweet horn charts. They didn’t do much of any straight-up dub with the exception of a quiet, spacy interlude toward the end of Stir It Up (a smart move – take a pop song and make it totally psychedelic). They wound up the show with a long Stop That Train, a version of High Tide or Low Tide (a Wailers outtake which might have been the most truly gorgeous tune of the night) that stayed true to the original, right down to the plaintive turnaround at the end of the verse, and an epic 400 Years that Bailis used as a platform for a gently contemplative intro, ferocious raga lines in midstream and finally at the end, when the organ and horns were at full force, took it deep into the heart of metal like Burning Spear’s band would do 25 years ago. It was that good. The new album is streaming right now at the band’s site.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toussaint’s Black Gold Evokes the Classics of Roots Reggae

Toussaint’s new album Black Gold is meticulously produced, stylistically diverse roots reggae that recalls what Burning Spear or Israel Vibration were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, although it’s more eclectic. The production may necessarily lean toward a digital feel, but the songs and playing are strictly roots. It’s amazing how much time and care went into this cd: there’s a real horn section, bass and drums, lead guitar and organ, no cheesy synthesizers or lame electronic drums. Toussaint brings gravitas and charisma to his songs, alternating between fervent, laid-back and thoughtful while his band provides an aptly hypnotic, lush groove. The conflict between the spiritual and the material, a classic roots dilemma, arises frequently: “Why you want tv flash in your eyes?” Toussaint challenges on the album’s opening cut, Nobody Knows. That question takes centerstage on the swaying, determined Roots in a Modern Time, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Burning Spear songbook. The same could be said for the darkly slinky Rise and Fall. Many of these tracks echo the more hit-oriented side of Bob Marley, but as inspiration rather than a ripoff, like the catchy, pulsing This Song, another positive, spiritually-charged number, and the bouncy Look Up. A couple of others remind of classic 70s-era Steel Pulse: the evocative reminiscence Rise and Fall, and the sufferah’s anthem Marching, right down to its martial drumbeat.

A couple of the tracks veer off on a pleasant detour into vintage 60s-style soul music; another blends dark art-rock with gospel piano, not something ordinarily found on a roots reggae album, but it’s welcome just the same. The album winds up with the optimistic Changing, looking forward to the future now that the Bush regime is out of office, and the absolutely gorgeous Rain Again. Toussaint obviously takes his cue here from Marley’s Redemption Song, but in place of the acoustic guitar he substitutes Youssoupha Sidibe’s kora, his inspired rivulets on the African harp adding an extra shimmery texture. For anyone who misses the days when you could tune in to Earl “Rootsman” Chin and see this kind of stuff on Rockers TV, Toussaint will bring back some fond memories with his unique, tuneful and smartly conscious styles. It’s out now on I Grade Records.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 9/19/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #863:

Peter Tosh – Live at the One Love Peace Concert

This is the famous 1978 concert where Bob Marley, in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Jamaica, forced Presidential candidates Michael Manley and his right-wing opponent Edward Seaga to shake hands onstage. Marley’s set that night was filmed, most of it included in the documentary Heartland Reggae. Tosh’s wasn’t, but the audio was recorded and issued thirteen years after his 1987 murder on the small Jad label. With the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Tosh and his band deliver a long, psychedelic, absolutely incendiary set punctuated by long, foul-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness rants. “We don’t want peace, we want justice,” Tosh declared right at the start, blowing smoke from his giant spliff in the direction of the candidates. He kicks off the show with the Rasta benediction Igziabeher and then launches into one scathing number after another, starting with 400 Years, which memorializes the Middle Passage while reminding that de facto slavery is still very much alive in the third world. He opens Burial with a withering critique of globalization, follows that with Equal Rights and then a long, rambling demand for marijuana legalization that eventually leads into a ten-minute version of Legalize It and then his signature song (which Tosh actually co-wrote with Marley in the days when he was the Wailers’ bassist), Get Up, Stand Up. Tosh would be beaten within an inch of his life by thugs after the show as retaliation. No freedom of speech in Jamaica in those days. Pretty much everything Tosh ever recorded is worth owning; he may not have had his bandmate’s gift for pop melody, but his vision of liberation continues to inspire new generations around the world. Here’s a random torrent.

September 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Pueblo Take You to the Islands

The cover image of El Pueblo’s new cd, a map of the Caribbean, pretty much says it all: they play just about every style of reggae ever invented, including some they can take credit for coming up with themselves. And they do it well: if their new album, Isla, is any indication, they could stretch pretty much all of these tracks out into mind-warping psychedelic dub. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers in both Spanish and English, featuring Robert Julian’s skanking reverb guitar, Lucas Leto’s shuffling drums, Kevin Sherman’s tasteful bass and Jeremy Danneman’s warmly balmy alto sax along with guest Danny LoPresti’s bubbling organ on two tracks. For the instrumentals, the obvious comparison is the Augustus Pablo classic East of the River Nile, if you substitute sax for the melodica and take the energy level up about a hundred degrees. The songs are a strikingly original blend of roots reggae with edgy rock en Español tinges, frontman Chino Sing’s casual, laid-back presence a perfect match with the band.

The album opens with its most dub-flavored track, Babylon Is a Chain Gang, textures rising and falling out of the mix Lee “Scratch” Perry style – and then they suddenly come out of the smoky cloud with sunny sax. They follow it with the first of two chorus box-driven reggae-pop tunes and then Dejate Llevar, which is catchy and Marleyesque, like something off the Kaya album, with a sly wah-wah guitar solo. Cabarete sounds like a vintage Skatalites instrumental gone halfspeed, with Danneman’s low, sultry clarinet taking the lead. One of the best songs here is the workingman’s anthem Babylon System Slave: “Don’t talk to me about freedom,” Sing asserts, not with 40 hours of misery looming in the week ahead. The other is the absolutely gorgeous El Capata, a swinging, hypnotic, Americana-tinged ballad rich with jangly, clinking acoustic guitar textures. There’s also the title cut, a big, guitar-fueled reggae anthem, a couple of playful, fun dub-tinged instrumentals, the lively ska jam Tatica’s Town and the closing track, The Ocean, a thoughtful reggae-rock ballad with gentle waves of reverb guitar. What a fun summertime album. El Pueblo play Shrine uptown on 8/27 at 9 PM.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocky Dawuni Brings Relevant Roots Reggae All the Way from Ghana

On his latest album Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Ghanian roots reggae superstar Rocky Dawuni takes a fearless political stance, Peter Tosh defiance matched to a musical backdrop that falls closer to intricate, purist late-period Bob Marley soul than Luciano slickness. Like those two Wailers, Dawuni is an excellent lyricist, and his tunes push a lot further than simple two or three-chord one-drop vamps. The songs are long, clocking in at five or six minutes at a clip – Burning Spear length, tailor-made to keep a big stadium swaying all afternoon.

The opening track, Download the Revolution begins with the sound of a dialup connection (that’s how they do it in the third world). With its oscillating synths, it’s a vivid reminder that at least for now, the internet has the potential to “wipe away the music of pollution,” as Dawuni so aptly puts it. The metaphorically charged African Reggae Fever is warm and unselfconsciously catchy like something off the Kaya album, a contrast with the offhand menace of the lyric: “Music for the radio don’t take the youth no higher…where you gonna run, where you gonna hide when the music comes for you?” Walls Come Tumbling Down is a matter-of-factly optimistic tribute to persistence – let’s not forget that this guy comes from a part of the world where those who protest a fraudulent election are literally risking their lives.

Elsewhere, a flute rises playfully in tribute to “surviving the Master Plan.” The wickedly catchy Road to Destiny celebrates the exile’s life, a search for justice – as much as that struggle can be celebrated, anyway. On Freefall, Dawuni angrily evokes the old soul adage about how “those you meet on the way up are the ones you meet on your way back down.” A mighty, majestic anthem, Jerusalem comes across as sort of a cross between Burning Spear and the late, great Lucky Dube. The album winds up with a big Marleyesque ballad and a stripped-down acoustic number. Modern-day roots reggae doesn’t get any better than this.

July 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

iLa Mawana: Soldiers of Jah Sound

On their new album Soldiers of Sound, Boston reggae band iLa Mawana offer a classic roots sound: no stiff computerized beats, no cheesy synthesizers, just a fat oldschool groove and one warm summery tune after another. The obvious comparison is John Brown’s Body although there’s definitely a Bob Marley influence there too. The band’s tight four-piece horn section sets them apart from most of the other roots acts out there. Singer Gianpaolo Blower is casual and laid-back and bass player Ryan Hinchey hangs behind the beat like Family Man Barrett of the Wailers while guitarist Dave Rosen sticks to rocksteady riddim and the occasional tingling Chinna Smith-style riff. Drummer Sammy Wags and organist Jason Moore keep it tight and terse as well. Lyrically, they keep it conscious, upbeat but socially aware. It grows on you slowly: by the time it’s over, it’s obvious that this is a stealth contender for one of the best albums of 2010.

The album opens with a big anthem, The Golden Age, spiced with wah guitar and a big horn chart after the first verse. The second track, Jigyo Keta is a catchy festival of good vibes: “Radiate it from your soul, lighting up hell’s dark sidewalk…imagine that.” The title track is a close cousin of the Marley classic Rastaman Vibration, with a long, balmy sax solo. The slinky workman’s anthem 40 Hours, an instant singalong, ought to energize crowds everywhere: “Give me back my 40, give me back my 40 hours!”

Mortal Motion is fast, almost a ska tune, taking a brooding look at mankind’s march to self-annihilation. The hypnotically pulsing Green Bridge, a standout track here, features an organ breakdown that leads the band up to a big soul-drenched ending. On the slow, Marley-ish Voodoo Spell, Rosen finally takes a guitar solo and makes all his notes count.

The fast, organ-driven Journeyman sounds a lot like a vintage John Brown’s Body song from 1996 or so, until it hits a big, tricky, jazzy outro. Grow My Way has an especially sweet bass groove and a hypnotic, echoey trumpet solo. The album winds up with a reggae-pop number followed by Tree Dub, a hint at how far outside they can take their songs in a live setting, and the defiant, slowly unwinding anthem I Define Me. They’re a killer live band (we enthusiastically reviewed one of their New York shows last May); they’re currently on tour, check their tourdates page. Click here to help them in their campaign to be High Times Magazine’s Band of the Month

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: iLa Mawana at Sullivan Hall, NYC 5/6/10

Here’s a fun band to check out this summer if you can figure out how to spell their name (you have to wonder how stoned whoever came up with that one was). iLa Mawana play all different kinds of roots reggae – upbeat anthems, slow grooves, sweet ballads and some psychedelic dub – and do all of it well. Late on a weeknight, they kept the Sullivan Hall crowd in the house and had everybody swaying through a 40-minute set that could have gone on for twice as long if the club had let them. Bassist Ryan Hinchey was perfect, supplying fat, chronic low end just a hair behind the beat like Family Man Barrett did in the Wailers. Drummer Sammy Wags had the one-drop down cold but also had a lot of different beats up his sleeve, especially on the faster numbers, abetted by a nimble conga player stashed toward the back of the stage. Organist Jason Moore added funky blips and bleeps when he wasn’t washing away the River of Babylon with a river of his own; guitarist Dave Rosen didn’t get the chance to step out much, but when he did he showed off a warm, understated Steve Cropper soul style. Singer Gianpaolo Blower goes for casual and laid-back – this band is all about good vibes – with some brassy, spot-on high harmonies from the band’s friend Sarah, who came up from the audience to join them for the second part of the set. They segued from their slinky opener, Dub Electa into a quick romp through a hypnotic one-chord jam, then into another original featuring a casually bluesy solo from their excellent alto sax player (their three-piece horn section added a welcome brightness over the trance-inducing pulse of the bass). Shifting chords hypnotically until it was practically impossible to find the beat – just moving anywhere at this point felt good – Tree Dub gave their trumpeter a chance to choose his spots.

The title track to their forthcoming new album Soldiers of Sound was as dubwise as they got, bringing it down with simple yet dizzyingly effective reverb guitar. The set wound up with a couple of fast, bouncy numbers, Frankly and Mortal Motion and closed with the big, spiritually charged Karmaland that wound down to just a tasty keyboard solo over the bass and drums at the end. If roots reggae is your thing – from the classics to current-day stars like Groundation and Meta & the Cornerstones – iLa Mawana (there – got it right) will hook you up. The cd release show is at Harpers Ferry in Allston, MA on 5/15; summer tourdates below.

May 07 – Greene, NY – Headyfest

May 08 – Narragansett, RI – The Wheelhouse

May 15 – Boston, MA – Harpers Ferry

May 20 – Miami Beach, FL – Purdy Lounge

May 21 – Sarasota, FL – Pastimes Pub

May 26 – Gainesville, FL – Backstage Lounge

May 27 – Orlando, FL – Plaza Theatre

May 28 – Panama City Beach, FL – Reggae J’s

May 29 – Satellite Beach, FL – Sports Page

May 30 – Sebastian, FL – Captain Hiram’s Resort

June 01 – Austin, TX – Flamingo Cantina

June 06 – Huntington Beach, CA – Gallagher’s Pub

June 16 – Portland, OR – Mt. Tabor Theater

June 17 – Arcata, CA – Jambalaya

June 18 – San Francisco, CA – Mojito

June 19 – San Francisco, CA – The Mezzanine

June 26 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

June 27 – Block Island, RI – Captain Nick’s

July 08 – Westerly, RI – Paddy’s Beach

July 16 – Rochester, NY – Dubland Underground

Aug 27 – Ithaca, NY – Castaways

Also worth knowing if Afrobeat is your thing – the massively funky, horn-driven 12-piece band Emefe, who played before iLa Mawana were also a lot of fun and had a lot of people dancing.

May 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment