Sax veteran Dean Fraser has released his first solo album in twelve years. On Melodies of D.E.B. he pays tribute to the late and great Dennis Brown, aka the Crown Prince of Reggae.
Together with producer Tad Dawkins Jr this 60-year-old saxophonist – who also serves as musical director for Tarrus Riley’s band Black Soil Band – have recorded instrumental versions of some of Dennis Brown’s greatest musical treasures, including Cassandra, Ghetto Girl, Sitting and Watching and the stunning West Bound Train.
Dean Fraser played with Dennis Brown back in the days and supported him both in studio and on tour with Lloyd Parks and We the People Band. And his interpretations of these Dennis Brown classics are well-rounded and balanced, i.e. not too slick, which can sometimes be the case with instrumental albums.
Last year I interviewed Jah David, bass player and musical director in Zion High Productions as well as member of acclaimed production trio Zion I Kings. In the interview he mentioned he was working on an album from saxophone player Jah Bless. Now that set has arrived.
To state that the reggae market today is overflowed by instrumental sets would be a grand exaggeration. Vocal sets are the order of the day and dub albums are far more common than instrumental albums. It was however different in the 60s and 70s when instrumental reggae efforts were part of a label’s regular output.
I’m a huge fan of instrumental albums and was really looking forward to this new album from Jah Bless. He’s carrying the tradition forward and this is a set in the same tradition as the great instrumental sets from the likes of Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso.
Redemption is Jah Bless’ second album and it collects 14 sax-driven tasty and organic instrumentals, sometimes with a hint of funky jazz and sometimes accompanied with a dub workout on the mixing board. The riddims are steller and Jah Bless blows his horn with an elegant smoothness.
Expectations are always high on Zion I Kings and they always manage to deliver accordingly. Essential for fans of bright and stylish reggae instrumentals.
U.S. reggae band 10 Ft. Ganja Pant continues to deliver solid instrumental sets. On their tenth album and the third installment in their on-going instrumental only Deadly Shots series 10 Ft. Ganja Plant offers ten charming cuts.
The album collects a mix of upbeat tracks and slower jams rooted in late 60s and early 70s Jamaica. Most of them are dominated by a soulful guitar or a groovy organ and they are clearly influenced by bands such as The Hippy Boys, The Crystalites and The Dynamites.
Included on the set is the wonderful Castor Bean, the haunting Angel Trumpet and the Middle Eastern-flavoured Oleander.
10 Ft. Ganja Plant is a spin-off of the more progressive and psychedelic reggae band John Brown’s Body, and they have been making music for more than 14 years. And this beautiful instrumental series is a well-deserved addition to their more contemporary catalogue.
The latest effort from Jamaican guitar maestro Ernest Ranglin – one of the masterminds behind My Boy Lollipop, the first ever ska-hit – is a collaboration with Avila, a group of top session musicians from South Africa, Israel and the U.S.
Ernest Ranglin is 82 years old, but is still going strong showcasing his smooth and warm guitar playing on this 16 track set titled Bless Up. The album was for the most part cut live with analogue sound and is reggae jazz at its best and includes Arabic excursions, jazz workouts, skanking ska, upbeat latin and bouncy African touches.
It offers loads of different rhythm structures, textures and flavors. But keywords are probably relaxing and playful. You have no idea what comes next and there are a constant flow of surprises throughout the set.
Bless Up follows several strong instrumental sets in the past six months or so – just check Nicodrum’s Back to Fundechan, Jaime Hinckson’s Take Flight, Jamaican Jazz Orchestra’s self-titled debut and Addis Pablo’s In My Father’s House, which is not completely instrumental though. Hats off to labels and musicians for gambling and releasing albums like these.
Feeling a bit stressed and exhausted? Well, what you might need is some meditative and uplifting sounds. And those are provided by French musician Nicodrum and some of his friends on the album Back to Fundechan, a twelve track album offering a fusion of reggae, nyabinghi, jazz and bossa nova.
Nicodrum is a noted percussionist as well as a session and live musician who has worked with Capleton, Richie Spice, Queen Omega, Jah Mason, Pressure and Willie Williams. His mentor is legendary Jamaican percussionist Noel “Skully” Simms, who has played with almost everyone in the reggae business since the 60s up until today.
Back to Fundechan is the result of a clever blend of rhythms from Africa, Jamaica and Africa, and it sounds rural and organic, yet urban, slick and contemporary. And loads of instruments were used when this album was recorded. You’ll hear flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, melodica, guitar, bass and of course several different drums. This album is mostly about percussion and drumming, hence the title, which is a reference to the fundeh, one of three different drums essential when recording nyabinghi.
The set is instrumental all the way and recorded together with renowned French producer and mixing engineer Fabwize. Each track has its unique identity and is led by two main instruments accompanied by a large brass section and chest-pounding drumming.
This is music with a big heart, a solid pulse and lots of soul. Love it.
Was recently recommended to have a listen to U.S. reggae/jazz piano maestro Jaime Hinckson’s instrumental debut album Take Flight, released late last year. And it was certainly a pleasure to my ears.
Jaime Hinckson was introduced to classical piano at the age of seven through his piano teacher Miss Mac, referred to as an angel in disguise on his website. She later introduced him to Leslie Butler, a piano wiz that helped him to bridge the gap between classical music and contemporary jazz. Born in Miami to Jamaican parents, reggae was in his blood.
On Take Flight he cleverly covers old classics such as Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain, Ken Boothe’s Moving Away, Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and The Maytal’s 54-46 Was My Number, but also more contemporary hit songs like John Legend’s Ordinary People and Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man.
The piano-driven and airy music is sparsely arranged with only drums, bass and guitar. A number of tracks however also include horns. The piano does most of the talking and drives the melody forward. It’s as much a jazz album as it’s a reggae album and today you don’t come across that mix often enough. Definately well worth checking out. Visit Jaime Hinckson’s website for a free listen to all of the tracks.
Reissue giants Pressure Sounds has recently put out another long lost gem – Tommy McCook’s instrumental set Reggae in Jazz, produced by noted producer Winston Riley’s brother Buster Riley and originally issued in scarce quantities on Eve Records back in 1976.
Ace saxophonist and arranger Tommy McCook was one of the original members of The Skatalites and during his long career he was instrumental in shaping the sound of ska, rocksteady and reggae. He supplied crisp horn lines for almost every premier producer in the 60s and 70s and founded The Supersonics as well as being a key member of bands such as The Aggrovators and The Revolutionaries.
On Reggae in Jazz his swinging and funky saxophone takes lead on a number of tracks, not every song though, since a few are organ and melodica lead. And don’t be fooled by the album title. The musical relationship with jazz is vague, or very vague. A more appropriate title would have been Reggae With Funk, since it’s funky to say the least.
The audio quality however leaves quite a lot to be desired, especially Bam Bam and Black Hat. The hi-hat sounds really terrible. Very unfortunate.
This is the second instrumental reggae album reissued by Pressure Sounds this year and hopefully this will start a trend, because instrumental reggae albums hasn’t been reissued to the same extent as, say, dub albums, which is a pity.
Reggae in Jazz comes with sleeve notes by noted reggae write Steve Barrow and is available on LP and CD. The latter carries two bonus tracks by The Mercenaries, one instrumental and one dub.
Do you miss keyboard wizards such as Glen Adams, Winston Wright or the late and great Jackie Mittoo? Then the latest album from U.S. roots and dub band 10 Ft. Ganja Plant might be of interest.
10 Deadly Shots Vol. 2 is a instrumental album that puts the organ courtesy of Roger Rivas from The Aggrolites in the front row. The other instruments – bass, guitar, drums and percussion – are handled the usual mysterious musicians that make up the band, probably members of John Brown’s Body.
The 10 deadly shots are vintage sounding and would have fitted perfectly on a Trojan Records’ compilation back in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
The production provides plenty of space for Roger Rivas groovy organ to float over the skanking riddims and it builds up an easygoing atmospheric soundscape for everyone to dance to.
You don’t hear a lot of instrumental albums these days. But when you do they’re often quite good, as in the several enjoyable efforts from U.S. band 10 ft. Ganja Plant or Neil Perch’s Zion Train.
The most recent instrumental album that landed at the Reggaemani residence is trombonist Matic Horns aka Henry Tenyue’s 36 tracked double CD Musical Storm produced by Gussie P and recorded with a host of talented musicians – Sly Dunbar, Style Scott, Mafia & Fluxy, Jah Shaka and Norman and Ralston Grant of the Twinkle Brothers.
Henry Tenyue started his career in the late 70’s working with Dennis Bovell and Linton Kwesi Johnson and then moving on to record and tour with UB40.
During the past years he has moved towards rootsy and deep riddims and his previous album was the haunting Increase the Peace for singer and producer Mike Brooks, an album where he blew the hell out of a prime selection of vintage riddims.
Musical Storm is in the same great vein with several relicks of classic reggae and ska songs, but also a number of fresh originals. Henry Tenyue lets his raw trombone speak with a sensitive aggression over the hard edged, dubby drum and bass heavy riddims.
Out of the 36 tracks only two feature vocals. And it is supplied by Henry Tenyue himself with no loss of quality.
Musical Storm is a sparkling musical feast that you can dine on for many months to come.