Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Abstract Index playlist - May 17/06

Moving to the very foundation of reggae this week with Blood and Fire's double disc set of 22 new versions of the "Fisherman" rhythm, originally recorded by the Congos on their definitive Heart of the Congos disc of 1978. This disc is often cited as Lee Scratch Perry's best work, and "Row Fisherman Row" was the album's opener. Although it's a powerful, chugging rhythm with typically diffuse psychedelic production, it never struck me as particularly versionable. Although Jamaican rhythms are malleable by definition, this whole album just seems unique, kind of untouchable. Until this collection, only Perry's dub (included on Heart of the Congos) took another pass at the original. The beauty of Blood and Fire's previous one-rhythm project, Tree Of Satta, was how each vocalist teased different images out of the spiritual theme, and found unique ways to play off the foundation. This new set is divided between veterans and newer talent. Disc One is all old school, from U Roy, Max Romeo and Big Youth to a surprisingly spry Prince Jazzbo. Disc Two is more interesting with Luciano and Lutan Fyah leading fresher and more nimble variations on the original. One of the best overall cuts is "Jig Jig Jig" by Early One, who is actually a fisherman by trade - check out the liner notes. German dub masters Rhythm and Sound edit it down to a fluid mix, with a few subtle dub twists of their own.

One of the strangest versions on the collection is "Spot and Beat the Bank" by Gregory Isaacs. The Cool Ruler possessed one of my favourite voices of all time, his thin, nasal, ultra-laid back delivery with a whiff of old man, even as an up and comer. No Jamaican Idol in looks or vocal range, perhaps, but one listen to Live At The Academy Brixton (1982) and you'll hear that he had the ladeez in the palm of his hand. In fact, the audience does more singing on that album than he does: he'll sing the opening line of a tune, the crowd goes nuts, and he spends the remainder of the show pointing the mic at the crowd, going "ooooh lawwwwwwwd" every so often. Great stuff! Unfortunately, he's had a predeliction for cocaine related products since around that time, and his voice has been ravaged. His voice was already less supple by the time "Rumours" hit in 1988, and has only gotten phlegmier (is that a word? cause that's what it is... surely not 'more phlegmatic') since then. By the new century, he could barely articulate anything at all, he always sounded like he forgot to put his dentures in.

The version of Fisherman that Isaacs has produced sounds a little more sprightly than the last few years. He seems pretty chipper during his 2005 performance on the DVD available from the Montreal International Reggae Festival. His voice has a little more power to it, though it still sounds like his lungs threaten to swallow up his larynx with every word. One thing he's never lost is his phrasing, and that what makes "Spot and Beat the Bank" so interesting. It's just a series of vocal inflections - the words hardly matter, it's just how he leans into the vocal performance that makes it distinctive. His voice is an even more bizarre vintage than ever; he should either be singing jazz standards or start working out some rootical versions of Nine Inch Nails tunes with Rick Rubin.

let him come in - howard lemon singers (soul jazz)
soy campesino - ska cubano (cumbancha)
flor d'agua - think of one (crammed)
kolangoman - les ambassadeurs internationales (rounder)
orden = desorden - maneja beto (indie)
vintule bataia ta - romina puceanu & gore brothers (ashphalt tango)
a.j. - lubo alexandrov (justin time)
for velasquez - william hooker/jason hwang (knitting factory)
machine gun - radio i ching (indie)
inuit talk - john stecth (justin time)
it's maybe late for you (meteosound)
our mute horn - masters at work feat ray vega (cutting)
misut irti - uusitalo (huume)
senegal/brasil - cheikh lo (nonesuch)
water for life - the mothers rmx by charlie may/peter rayburn (mr. bongo)
fast and slow song - da linck (mind/nocturne)
on dub street - dub guerilla (enja)
enjoy your blessings - al pancho (blood and fire)
funky n.a.s.a. - mossman (bass ma boom)
akademikus du - roots tonic (ROIR)
round the dub - bush chemists (ROIR)
reggae music dub - barrington levy (auralux)
weeping - junior byles (heartbeat)


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