Showcase of Reggae Perfection; Lone Ark meets the 18th Parallel

Just as Afrika Bambaataa was “looking for the perfect beat,” I’m one who’s seldom content with the direction reggae has shifted to in the modern era, and long to discover something more akin to the finale of its golden age, when Marley chanted his songs of freedom to a liberated Zimbabwe, Jah Shaka shook the rafters and Linton Kwesi Johnson poetically versed an English insurgence.

Alongside international acts such as Spanish The Emeterians, or Hollie Cook closer to us, Switzerland’s Fruits Records is that rare outpost still defending the ethos of that militant period in reggae, and if I’ve used the term “reggae perfection,” to define their wonderful outpourings before, this one takes the phrase to a whole new dizzy height.

Out tomorrow, 3rd September, Showcase Vol1, cannot be compared with any other reggae album I’ve heard of recent; it simply wouldn’t be fair on the others. I’d better pitch this against classics; Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Survival, Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey, Black Uhuru’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and a particular favourite of mine, Misty in Roots, Live at the Counter Eurovision 79, in order to rank it equitably, fi true.

Probably the most respected and sought-after producer of the European reggae scene of the last decade, Roberto Sánchez takes his place behind the microphone to deliver a new album as a singer under pseudonym Lone Ark, and is backed by Fruits’ in-house band, The 18th Parallel, and it’s quite simply, a sublime combination.

Sublime because it honours the Jamaican roots reggae tradition, with bells on. To put in perspective these six tracks, with dubplate counterparts, is to accept I’m sent so much music they occasionally get played more than once, but Showcase has been on repeat for the last month, and it still makes me tingle with delight, and militantly march while washing up the dishes!

It just has all the elements of said reggae perfection, heavy bass, divine one-drops, scorching riddims and well-penned lyrics of righteousness. The creativity of the sound engineer and the musicians is freely expressed, and the melody is tight, allowing all elements to flow in an amalgamation which sizzles under the grill.

Without being preachy or spiritual, there’s balanced virtue in the words. Starting revolutionary in citing youth, with the rousing line of Defend; “the rights of our brothers and sisters who cannot defend themselves,” through the yin-yang revelation in the solid Snake in the Grass. Side B, however, starts with Build an Ark, talks of family values in everyday activities, and “Get You,2 projects positivity to defeat oppression, akin to One Love. And in a summary, it creates a tenet comparable to the words of Marley, along with the sound of Sly & Robbie at their peak of Black Uhuru. And I’m sorry, but you cannot beat that.

This album is a treasure, all reggae fans need in their lives.


Check out my reggae and ska show, every Friday from 10pm GMT

Trending….

Reggae Perfection; Winds of Matterhorn

Again, we find ourselves in the most unsuspecting part of the world to find the perfect reggae sound, Switzerland. Fruits Records release Winds of Matterhorn at the end of this month, 30th April.

Rather than the unanimous Rastafarian camp, Jamacia’s hills of Wareika, Swiss-Italian trombonist Mattbrass and producer Jackayouth have taken inspiration from the eminent mountain in the Alps for this four-track instrumental EP. Unlike the progressive nature of the Jamaican music industry, Fruits Records, as ever, find their penchant in a more classic sound. The tried-and-tested formula of roots reggae may be deemed old hat on the island of reggae’s origin, but no one can refute the global influence of Bob Marley and the Wailers, and the consequential epoch which followed.

The mechanics of the profound effect reggae’s golden era has had on music as a whole is inconsequential here, because there is no fusion or experimental divergence. You will not hear rock or soul’s pastiches of the formula, there’s no preaching vocals, you will only hear a crisp and refined approach to the true sound. This is reggae at its finest, a driving riddim, occasional wail of an electric guitar, heavy bassline and saturated in sublime horns.

To emphasise these classic elements of reggae are evidently profound, each tune is singularly named after the four classic elements; earth, air, fire and water.  

Earth is marching one-drop reggae, the kind you’ll identify with the later works Bob Marley & The Wailers, such as the 1979 album Survival. But Air is no lighter, there’s a real deep, roots feel to it, a plodding bassline fills said air, but throughout there’s this continuation of a tight horn section, managed to perfection. Fire has more upbeat jollity about it, so much so it near-verges on the classic ska of the unrivalled Skatalites. Water brings it back around, with that proud one-drop march.

This is the traditions of reggae, elsewhere at its very best, the only thing it lacks is the vocal affirmation to Rastafari, or anything else uniquely indigenous to JA, rather a structured salute to the sound, as if it was performed by Mozart or Beethoven. There’s the nutshell, if Beethoven went to sister Mary Ignatius Davies’ class at Kingston’s Alpha Cottage School, with Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Roland Alphonso et all, his symphonies might end up sounding something like this; it is that accomplished.

Top marks, as if they not done it before on Devizine, and I’ve still not gotten fully over how awesome Wonderland of Green was!


Trending…

Rocking Steady For Some Cosmic Shuffling?

Righty, a pop quiz question prior to today’s review, if you’re game? Look at the three people pictured below, which one of them influenced reggae music the most, A, B or C?

Answer: A. Did you guess right? Probably, because you know me well enough to know it was a trick question! C is Jamaican National team footballer, Allan “Skill” Cole, though as a close friend of Bob Marley he became the Wailers tour manager and was credited in co-writing some songs. And B is just Brad Pitt with a Bob Marley makeover for a biopic which has yet to see the light of day!

On the other hand, A is Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Ignatius Davies, a teacher of Kingston’s vocational residential school, Alpha Cottage School, a school for “wayward boys.” A devotee of blues and jazz, she operated a sound system at the school and tutored many of Jamaica’s most influential musicians. As a musical mentor for graduates she dubbed “the old boys,” would later make up the backbone of The Skatalites, producer Coxsone Dodd’s inhouse band which shaped the very foundation of ska at Studio One.

The Skatalites in 1964

Here is the unrivalled benchmark of Jamaican music, as well as a plethora of instrumental ska classics, just like Booker T & the MGs were the inhouse band of Stax, The Skatalites backed more memorable singles from too many singers to sensibly name here, yes, including Bob Marley.

To suggest a ska band isn’t as good as Studio One’s Skatalites is not an insult, rather a compliment to even be mentioned in the same sentence. It’d be the rock equivalent of saying that guitarist isn’t as good as Jimi Hendrix. For all intents and purposes, Cosmic Shuffling are not a new Skatalites, but to find anyone to come close nowadays, you need not look further than Switzerland; yeah, you read that right.

Ska in Switzerland usually abbreviates Square Kilometre Array, the forefront organisation of fundamental science, with a mahoosive universe-scoping telescope. Yet I’ve discovered some stars of my own, creating some sublime ska music. While Skaladdin are strictly ska-punk, and the amazing Sir Jay & The Skatanauts are majorly jazz-inspired, there is a scene blossoming. Geneva based combo Cosmic Shuffling are ones to watch. With a penchant and dedication to the authentic golden age of Jamaican sounds, Cosmic Shuffling deserve a comparison to Skatalites more than anyone else I could roll off, even to note, they’re Fruits Record’s inhouse band.

After a few scorching singles on Fruits Records, Cosmic Shuffling release an album, Magic Rocket Ship, tomorrow, 13th November. Nine tracks strong, this is mega-ska bliss. Without the usual ethos of speed being the essence, this lends perhaps closer to rock steady, but prevalent horns give it that initial changeover between styles, when ska was slowing, due to curfew in Jamaica and a particularly sweltering summer. Rock Steady may’ve been short-lived but was reggae’s blueprint, ska’s successor and arguably the most creative period of Jamaican recorded music history.

If you’ve even a slight fondness for traditional ska and reggae, I cannot recommend this enough. At one point I felt the English lyrics slightly quirky, with wonky connotations perhaps lost in translation, albeit with a tune stimulated from a Dr Seuss character, namely The Cat in the Hat, I guess seriousness is not on the agenda. Neither are vocals wholly on show here, but the “tightness” of the band, making the composition of every tune simply divine. I can’t fault it, only jump and twist to it like it was going out of fashion! Which, by the way, in my world, it never will.

Magic Rocket Ship is both a tribute to Jamaican music and a breakthrough into the innovative world of the sextet. Recorded in the aesthetics of sixties sound; ribbon microphones, magnetic tapes and analogue saturation, by extraordinary Spanish producer Roberto Sánchez, it’s a delight to listen to. From it’s opening vocal title track, which doubles up as an explanation to the band name, to the fantastic instrumental up-tempo finale Eastern Ska, every tune is a banger.

Perhaps with Anne Bonny as the most subject worthy, Short Break the most romantically inducing, and Night In Palermo being the most sublimely jazzy, it’s clear with Magic Rocket Ship vocalist Leo Mohr, with Loïc Moret on drums, backing vocals and percussion, Mathias Liengme on piano, organ, backing vocals, percussion, Basile Rickli on alto saxophone, backing vocals, Anthony Dietrich Buclin on trombone, backing vocals and bassist Primo Viviani. With guest guitarists Roberto Sánchez, Josu Santamaria and Tom Brunt, Gregor Vidic on tenor saxophone, William Jacquemet on trombone and trumpeters Thomas Florin, and Ludovic Lagana, Cosmic Shuffling have set a new benchmark, mimicking those legendary Skatalites, without the help of a nun. At least, I don’t believe there was a nun involved!


Tune into my show on http://www.bootboyradio.co.uk every Friday night, 10pm GMT till midnight
%d bloggers like this: