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kaysixone (Manchester, UK)

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Ornette on Tenor
Ornette on Tenor

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PURE BRILLIANCE, 3 July 2003
This review is from: Ornette on Tenor (Audio CD)
Ornette Coleman is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential musicians of the last century; but like many true originals he had to endure a great deal of hostility when he first appeared on the scene 45 years ago - from those who either resented, didn't understand or just didn't like the way he chose to ignore rules which they considered fundamental to jazz (and which many established musicians had devoted countless hours of practice to learning)....
Coleman's musical vision (which came to be known as harmolodics) defies easy categorisation and his own attempts to explain it have been frustratingly vague. Basically he wanted to free his playing from the restrictions of harmonic and rhythmic conventions prevalent in the jazz of the 1950's - and crucially, to create improvisations using the melodic line as a starting point which were not dependent on chord changes. Although his name will always be associated with "free jazz", Coleman's music is far from "free" and contains an abundance of logic, melody and rhythm, as well as being deeply rooted in the blues.
Despite causing so many waves among the jazz establishment (or maybe because of it) Coleman also managed to attract a hardcore of devotees and win the support of other young musicians looking for new ideas and fresh approaches to playing (Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Scott La Faro, Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell and others). The core of his most influential output was recorded during numerous sessions for the Atlantic label between 1959 and 1961, including groundbreaking albums like "The shape of jazz to come", "Change of the century", "This is our music", "Free jazz" etc....
The complete recordings can be found in chronological order on the 6 cd set "Beauty is a rare thing", but if your budget doesn't stretch that far, "Ornette on tenor" from 1961 is as good an example as any of Coleman's music from this period. Although he usually plays alto sax, Coleman switched to the tenor for this album because in his opinion "the best statements Negroes have made of what their soul is have been on tenor saxophone"....
Like nearly all the Atlantic sessions, it's a quartet recording and features sublime performances from the leader with great support from Don Cherry on trumpet, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. With no piano in the line-up (the omission of which was still pretty revolutionary in those days) Garrison and Blackwell's role is as much melodic and interactive as it is rhythmic - and their choice of phrases sometimes suggest new directions for Coleman and Cherry, who both play with incredible fluency and almost telepathic understanding. Coleman's expressive solos make full use of the tenor's deeper range, while Cherry's contributions are generally more subtle (particularly on the awesome "Cross breeding", when after the leader's stunning solo there's not much left to say).
There seems to be an endless amount of space in this music - so many melodic possibilities for the players to explore and four decades on it still sounds remarkably fresh and contemporary. Not just great jazz but great music, period.

Reggae Routes
Reggae Routes
by Kevin O'Brien Chang
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars INADEQUATE, 5 Jun. 2003
This review is from: Reggae Routes (Paperback)
This book certainly makes a lot of bold claims for itself. According to the back cover it's "the authentic story of Jamaican popular music" as well as being "the best book ever written on reggae". So my first disappointment after receiving "Reggae routes" (a gift from a well-meaning friend) was to discover how short it is. Although the authors seem to think that they've written a "reggae bible", in reality it barely qualifies as a primer, and not a very good one at that.

The book is divided into 3 sections, so it makes sense to consider each one in turn.

Section 1 briefly outlines the history of Jamaican music and on the whole is a pretty good introduction to the subject, but it's nothing like the definitive account I was expecting. The only really bad chapter is "Reggae international", which mainly consists of well-worn cliches about Bob Marley and actually says very little about the impact reggae has made beyond the shores of Jamaica, particularly in the UK since the 1960s, or about the huge influence of Jamaican music on today's rave and dj culture, or its specific contributions to the development of hip hop as well as more recent phenomena like drum 'n' bass.

In Section 2 the authors list and discuss memorable recordings from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s in roughly chronological order, and although most of their choices are worthy of inclusion, it's a far from comprehensive selection, mainly because they focus entirely on singles. It's true that reggae is without doubt a singles-driven genre, but failure to include some of the great albums from the last four decades means that many of Jamaica's finest recordings aren't even mentioned in "Reggae routes". What's worse is that some really significant singles are also missing, for example Wayne Smith's seminal King Jammy produced "Under mi sleng teng" (which kicked off the digital era in the mid-1980s) isn't included in the authors' 80s selection.

It also rapidly becomes clear that they don't have anything original to say about the music, and their comments about individual records are often brief, insipid or clearly borrowed from other sources. This part of the book is also littered with mistakes, and mainly demonstrates the complete opposite of what Chang & Chen would like you to believe, ie the mere fact that you're from Jamaica does not make you an expert on reggae music (I was born in England, but that doesn't make me an expert on cricket)....

They are clearly unfamiliar with some of the records they review. For example their brief description of U-Roy's "Natty rebel" correctly states that it's based on a recording of the Bob Marley song "Soul rebel", but they don't seem to realise that the recording in question is a cover version by the Gladiators (from their excellent "Trenchtown mix-up" album) and not by Bob Marley himself. Quite a few of the singles have also been assigned to the wrong year, which might be understandable for some of the more obscure tracks, but it's hard to believe that they don't know when massive hits like Marley's "Three little birds" came out....

Section 3 mainly consists of lists: Jamaican radio charts for each year from 1960 to 1997, a "most popular artists" chart (based on the radio charts), the authors' top 100 reggae chart (featuring their favourite tracks from 1960 - 1980) and top 30 dancehall chart (featuring tracks from 1983 - 1996). It's a pity that the latter two charts consist solely of the two lists of records with no explanatory comments, because it would be interesting to know why the authors decided that these 130 tracks are better than the huge number of others which weren't included. Failing this, it would have been helpful to cross-reference each item in the chart with the page on which it is discussed in Section 2 of the book (although quite a few of them don't actually appear in Section 2). It's also a shame that the authors didn't compile an album chart, which readers would probably find more useful, and I'm mystified as to why they don't seem to think that anything worthwhile happened in 1981 and 1982! The book finishes with a list of sources and references and a very short essay about Rastafarianism, which for some reason is tagged on rather untidily at the end.

Throughout the book the very variable quality of the photos and artwork is another let-down. Many of the images are either not well integrated with the text or poorly reproduced. For example, check out the pic of Lady Saw on p213 - although I'm quite prepared to believe it's really her, the photo is so blurred that it could just as easily be Nancy Reagan or even an alien from another planet! In addition, the choice of images to accompany individual sections of text is sometimes rather strange. For example, the authors illustrate their review of Black Uhuru's "Solidarity" with a picture of the front cover of the group's "Sinsemilla" album, which came out four years earlier and doesn't contain the track in question (it's actually from an album called "Anthem"). And there are other examples which are just as bad....

Overall, "Reggae routes" is the worst book on the subject that I've read, and as there are several infinitely superior reggae guides on the market, I'd strongly recommend that you avoid it.

Black Ark in Dub
Black Ark in Dub

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars All that glitters is not gold...., 10 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Black Ark in Dub (Audio CD)
This is apparently a long-lost Lee Perry album which was recorded at Perry's Black Ark studio in 1977. It has an authentic looking cover, with the sort of artwork you might expect to see on an Upsetter release from this period, and allegedly features a band that includes the Barrett brothers, Junior Murvin, Winston Wright and Ansell Collins....
It contains some relentlessely heavy dub music, splattered with the kind of wacky sound fx we associate with late-70's Perry, and most of the 14 tracks certainly have the trademark Black Ark sound....
In fact, anyone familiar with Perry's 1970's output will recognise many of the rhythms, as they're versions of well-known Upsetter productions widely available elsewhere, eg track 3 ("Lion") is a version of "Words" by Anthony Sangie Davis, track 4 ("Rasta man") is a version of Watty Burnett's "Open the gate", track 9 ("Money") is a version of Danny Hensworth's "Mr money man" etc....
So what's the problem?
Well....if this really is a genuine Lee Perry album from the Black Ark era, then why doesn't he get a single credit for writing, arranging or producing any of it?
According to the sleevenotes, all the tracks have been written by Desmond Bryan and Aisha Morrison, arranged by Bryan and produced by Morrison.
How come?
Well....Aisha Morrison is Lee Perry's ex-wife, who (as well as being an artist and producer in her own right) happens to possess a substantial collection of Perry's recordings, and I suppose you can't blame her for releasing some of them to make a few bucks for herself.
"Black ark in dub" is an expanded reissue of an album that originally came out in the early 1980's and is one of a huge number of unauthorised Perry releases on the market (and not the only one that Morrison is responsible for). Although it does contain some bona fide Upsetter selections (alongside tracks which have little or no involvement from Perry), he clearly had nothing to do with it's release and just as clearly isn't going to make any money out of it. Bryan & Morrison's claims to have written all the music are completely false and their "arrangement and production" work amounts to some overdubbing and remixing of previously released material.
How much of the album's overall sound is down to Bryan & Morrison and how much to the Upsetter is debatable. Based on some direct comparisons I'd say it varies from track to track (although the former are definitely responsible for most of the annoying synth noises which are a prominent feature throughout). For example, apart from the presence of some low-key electronic bubbling sounds, there's no real difference between the aforementioned "Rasta man" and Perry's original dub of "Open the gate" (other than the fact that "Rasta man" was obviously edited with a butcher's knife!). But if you listen to track 8 ("Loving") - a version of George Faith's "Guide Line" - and Perry's original dub of this track, the contrast is much starker.

The album does contain some great music, but why buy it when there are plenty of authentic Perry releases out there? Give the Upsetter his due and stay clear of bogus product bearing his name....

Soundzs From The Hot Line
Soundzs From The Hot Line
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £19.87

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MELTDOWN, 24 Jan. 2003
The completion of his Black Ark studio in 1974 was the beginning of an unprecedented era of creativity for Lee Perry (AKA "Scratch" or "The Upsetter"). Over the next few years he was responsible for producing classic albums like "Super ape" and "Heart of the Congos" as well as a huge number of singles by many different artists, while stockpiling an almost unlimited supply of rhythms in the process. One consequence of his legendary productivity is the daunting number of Upsetter compilations that are now available, many of which are of dubious authenticity or contain a surplus of filler material, but this one is as bona fide as they come. It contains rare and previously unreleased material from the late 1970's taken from original master tapes in Perry's vast archives, and is up there with the Upsetter's very best releases under his own name.
Perry's productions from this period were as distinctive as they were innovative, and using laughably primitive equipment he somehow managed to come up with atmospheric mixes which listeners are still puzzling over today (all summed up by one of my favourite Perry quotes: "it was only four tracks on the machine, but I was picking up twenty from the extra terrestrial squad"). He has always been a volatile and unpredictable character with a reputation for being "not all there", but by the end of the 70's a combination of too much work, too much pressure (separation from his wife, money problems, hassle from local gangsters), too much alcohol and too much ganja started to drive him over the edge. His behaviour became increasingly bizarre, and after first completely covering the walls of the Black Ark with densely written graffiti, Perry began to physically wreck his own studio....
The standout track on this album is the paranoia-filled "Ashes and dust", the lyrics of which are almost a commentary on the Upsetter's disintegrating mental state at the time. Based on the strong "Vibrate on" rhythm, it's one of his most masterfully intense productions and a fine example of the earthy Black Ark sound at its best. Perry delivers a mystical invocation over a mix filled with eerie sound effects and a juxtaposition of voices blending in with his own - waxing lyrical about life, the universe and everything while threatening past adversaries like Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Chris Blackwell with retribution and generally inviting the men in white coats to come and take him away....
Elsewhere, "Free up the prisoners", which Perry somehow keeps going for nearly 13 minutes, and the extra-heavy "In this Iwa" are other highlights, but there are no weak moments to be found on this consistently impressive collection, so you have no excuse for not purchasing "Soundz from the hotline" immediately.
Incidentally, the Black Ark studio was completely destroyed by fire in 1983 and many people suspect Perry of deliberately burning it down himself to foil his enemies, real or imagined. But only he knows for sure....

Revolution Dub
Revolution Dub

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GENIUS OR LUNATIC?, 24 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Revolution Dub (Audio CD)
"Revolution dub" dates from the early days of the Black Ark studio and features nine short stabs of stripped down minimalist dub music, instantly recognisable as the work of Lee "Scratch" Perry the Upsetter. It's one of my favourite dub albums of the 1970's, even though by 21st century standards it's more than a little brief (just over 30 minutes is simply not enough these days). This cd reissue also suffers from poor sound quality on some of the tracks, which sadly is often the case with Lee Perry re-releases, but fortunately the quality of the music shines through.
The opening "Dub revolution" sets the mood: slow, deep and heavy, with only some crisp rhythm guitar prominent in the mix alongside the bass and drums, plus intermittent fx and vocal interruptions from the Upsetter ("This is dub revolution! Music to rock the nation!" etc)....
Perry has always taken risks with sound, using his maverick imagination to push the very basic technology at his disposal to the limits. Maybe not as slick-sounding as some people would like, his productions have always been infused with a special kind of musical madness and this album is no exception. For example, "Doctor on the go" features snippets from vintage British TV sitcom "Doctor in the house" mixed into a version of Junior Byles' excellent "The long way" and somehow it works perfectly. Go figure.

The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae (Virgin Encyclopedias of Popular Music)
The Virgin Encyclopedia of Reggae (Virgin Encyclopedias of Popular Music)
by Colin Larkin
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars ADEQUATE, BUT YOU NEED MORE...., 23 Jan. 2003
Speaking as someone with a huge and ever-expanding music collection (and a particular interest in reggae), I've always found books of this nature to be of little value. This is especially the case now that we have access to an almost infinite source of reference material on this and pretty much every other subject under the sun, ie the internet.

The Virgin encyclopaedia is basically an A-Z of reggae and certainly contains a great deal of information. As such, it's an easy to use reference tool for looking up the biographical details or discographies of individual artists, groups and producers, as well as overviews of reggae's many different styles.

The biographical information is generally good, but unfortunately, the discographies are of very variable quality and ratings for individual albums can be somewhat dubious. There is a five-star rating system, and the vast majority of albums listed have been given either three or four stars. In fact I was surprised to see some major reggae artists without a single album with a five-star rating. In addition, each album is rated only in comparison to other albums by the same artist. Thus a three-star album by Artist A could easily be better than a five-star album by Artist B.

Another failing is the complete lack of photos, but the principal one is the lack of context. This is not a book which will really help you to learn about or understand reggae. For that you need an account of the subject which contains all the above information, but also chronicles the development of modern Jamaican music and of Jamaica itself, as well as the evolution of reggae abroad and it's influence on other musics....

So I'd strongly advise you to acquire the excellent "ROUGH GUIDE TO REGGAE" (by Steve Barrow et al) or the authoritative "BASS CULTURE: WHEN REGGAE WAS KING" (by Lloyd Bradley) in addition to or instead of this book. Or better still, forget about books entirely and buy the superbly documented 4 CD set "TOUGHER THAN TOUGH: THE STORY OF JAMAICAN MUSIC"; from which you'll learn more about reggae than from all the books in the world combined, while getting to hear some of the greatest music ever made....

The Rough Guide to Reggae (Rough Guide Music Guides)

Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King

The Story of Jamaican Music: Tougher Than Tough

Peel Sessions
Peel Sessions
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £17.22

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars IT'S A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT...., 23 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Peel Sessions (Audio CD)
This is a great retrospective Fall collection, which has been compiled by former band-member Steve Hanley. It contains 17 tracks - one each from the first 17 (!) sessions that The Fall recorded for John Peel's legendary BBC radio show, covering the years from 1978 to 1993 (needless to say that they subsequently recorded a few more)....

It's not a "best of" by any means, but these snapshots from various points in The Fall's long history ably demonstrate that despite the frequent and often turbulent changes to the band's line-up, their musical output has been consistently excellent throughout. Their sound has also changed a great deal since the band's formation in the immediate aftermath of punk in the late 1970s, but somehow or other, each of these selections is still almost instantly recognisable as being by The Fall.

It's often the case that Peel session tracks end up sounding superior to the subsequently re-recorded versions which appear on albums and singles, and that's certainly the case with "Smile", "Athlete cured" and some of the other tracks on this cd, but all are very good indeed.

2010 UPDATE: since John Peel's death in 2004, a 6 cd set of the complete Fall Peel sessions has been released, and if you like the Fall it's an essential purchase.

The Complete Peel Sessions

Ital Dub
Ital Dub

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lazy dub, 22 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Ital Dub (Audio CD)
Although this album doesn't quite reach the high standards of Pablo's best work, it's by no means as poor as is often made out and generally manages to get into my summer playlist at some point.
Recorded at Harry J's and King Tubby's studios in the mid-1970's and mixed by Tubby, it's a lugubrious journey through a selection of mostly familiar rhythms (including versions of Jacob Miller's "Forward Jah Jah children", Bob Marley's "Rebel music" and the Lee Perry classic "Curly locks"), featuring typically sparse arrangements and fx. Pablo does seem to be functioning largely on autopilot throughout the proceedings but it's still a perfect album for chilling out to.
However if you're new to Pablo I'd recommend that you obtain some of his better work on albums like "Original rockers" and "Who say Jah no dread" before considering this one....

Original Rockers
Original Rockers
Offered by Discsourcery
Price: £9.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CRUCIAL SELECTION, 22 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Original Rockers (Audio CD)
Augustus Pablo was one of the most original and gifted of the Jamaican artists who emerged during the 1970's. As well as releasing a large number of mainly instrumental and dub recordings under his own name, he worked extensively as a session musician and was also successful as a producer, with credits on a formidable array of great records by the likes of Jacob Miller, Hugh Mundell, Junior Delgado and others.
Pablo's music is instantly recognisable and is one of the most distinctive sounds in reggae: tight rhythms, sparse arrangements and simple but flowing melody lines, usually in a minor key, with either a keyboard (organ, piano or clavinet) or more often his famous melodica as the lead instrument. It has been described as his "far eastern" style, of which the sublime "Up warrika hill" on this album is a perfect example.
"Original rockers" was first released in 1979 and is a compilation of tracks that appeared on various singles from 1972 to 1975. It includes some of Pablo's very earliest work for producer Clive Chin alongside more accomplished self-produced material mixed by King Tubby, with whom Pablo enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership.
It isn't really a dub album, and with one or two exceptions (notably "Jah dread" and "Park lane special") contains little in the way of fx from Tubby's mixing desk. "Braces a boy" features a toast from Dillinger and other tracks have spoken intros or snatches of vocals which occasionally surface in the mix, but it's mainly instrumental. Overall, it's an immaculate collection of Pablo originals such as "Cassava piece" (an early version of the rhythm subsequently recut as "King Tubby meets rockers uptown") and reworkings of well-known rhythms like the excellent opener "Rockers dub" (based on the Heptones classic "Love won't come easy"). My only complaint is that it's so short. Thirty minutes of classic Pablo is simply not enough, so needless to say it's not the only Augustus Pablo album you need to buy....

Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £26.85

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INTENSE, 21 Jan. 2003
This review is from: Guitar (Audio CD)
This is awesome stuff. Two hours and ten minutes of intense and relentless fret abuse. No vocals, no tunes, just guitar solos and nothing else.
"Guitar" was more than good enough when it was first released in 1988, but this expanded edition with extra tracks is a considerable improvement on the original. The material is culled from live performances recorded over a five year period (1979 to 1984), and from the opening chords of "Sexual harassment in the workplace" (the album also features some of Frank's most creative titles) it just builds and builds with no pause for breath.
Although the sound isn't always 100% perfect, I much prefer the raw spontaneity of "Guitar" to the more refined approach of its predecessor "Shut up and play your guitar", which seems positively weak in comparison. Frank didn't recommend it for children or Republicans, but to the rest of us this is one of the truly essential Zappa albums.

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