(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 19, Number 5, 2000)
During the late '70s and early '80s, the soul jazz and Latin jazz scene, although it was most certainly "under-ground," was not really a London thing. That's not to say it was ignored by individuals resident in Central London, nor that the inhabitants who chose to be involved in the movement did not have anywhere to go in Central London to practice their fancy footwork. Far from it. But in essence it existed in towns and cities the length and breadth of England. In the South East region it was an outer London scene, existing mostly in suburbia, places like Croydon and further out into that bastion of black music, Essex. Which is where Mark Cotgrove AKA Snowboy comes in. He was born in Canvey Island, Essex, learned the congas from the best players in the land, and set out on a musical journey with a passion for Latin and jazz.
By the late '80s and early '90s the next jazz dance scene was firmly London based, with the rise of the Acid Jazz label and nights at Camden's Dingwalls club. Snowboy debuted his recording career at that time with Acid Jazz Records, and has never looked back, which is more than can be said for the acid jazz movement. More recently Snowboy seems to have found a spiritual as well as physical home for his music on the San Francisco-based Cubop label. His latest offering, Afro Cuban Jazz, is a real rip-roaring beauty. Sharp and steely, this is hard-core classic Latin jazz as purveyed by the masters, Eddie Palmieri and Ray Barretto. Full marks to all the players who shine throughout on this great recording, especially to Hammond man Neil Angilley, and all-purpose top percussionist Dave Pattman, who fills out the beats while Gary Plumley on alto sax really gives it some welly. Trumpet player Sid Gauld and 'bone player Paul Taylor top out the rest of this kicking horn section. Slow ones, fast ones, mambos, they're all here. Afro Cuban Jazz is a new instant classic, cooked to perfection and served up sizzling hot.
The Cubop label has a whole slew of releases: They certainly seem to have cornered the market on the West Coast for Latin jazz. Their Jazz on the Latin Side by the Latin Jazz Allstars shows a gutsy solid band swinging through a session recorded live to mark the 10th anniversary of dj Jose Riso's radio broadcasts for KLON-FM.
Another Cubop issue features vibeist Dave Pike, a stalwart of the '70s Latin jazz dance scene over here. With his latest release, Peligroso, it is good to see he is still kicking up dust on dance floors with a track called "Cayo Coco." This charanga-infused groovy workout is already huge up in the north of England where cheerleaders for the Leeds and Northwest Latin scene, the Dig family, hit their crowds with tunes like this at their clubs Casa Latina, the Cooker and Yardbird Suite.
Here in London we have been soaking up the good grooves on a new release by Adalberto Alvarez y Su Son with his Jugando con Candela (Havana Caliente). Yes, another super dupa release on Atlantic Records, Cuban imprint. Smooth and bumpin,, yet sinewy and muscular, this is a tough little number. Two of the standouts so far for me include "Verdaderos Soneros" and "Y No Me Da La Cuenta," a real zinger of a track that starts out reggae, drops into an almost ska-tinged timba mood, then a rap/toast steps forward. This tune really messes up people's heads at first"they think they are going to get one thing, then get another. But once they have heard it, it becomes a firm favorite.
A release from Palm Pictures that could be most certainly be put firmly in the London-Bogata cross-pollinated box comes from Sidestepper, whose More Grip is a finely crafted, fat, gritty, beats 'n, all chorizo. Main blender and grinder is producer Richard Blair, who mixes in the Colombian spice with porkin, great modern beats. This group has been wowing everybody recently with their hard-hitting and innovative live shows. This album has been getting dance-floor interest over a very wide spectrum of practitioners of recorded music"that's djs to you. The experimental mix-ups generally work very well, with things like "Chevere Q, Chevere" dropping a drum,n,bass attitude, "Hoy Tenemos" has flighty flute and a catchy "Right Now!" chorus from the girl singers as the rhythm builds, while "Linda Manigua" is a stepping mutant-ska mover that drifts into moody dub. I tell you this Latin-reggae mix thang is going to be huge very soon. More Grip is a very creative, interesting and very worthwhile addition to this whole modern Latino mix-up style....
Unlike some of the tracks on a release from star Cuban band Bamboleo on their No! Que Bueno Esta (Ahi Nama). A dj friend of mine rather uncharitably called this cd "like an end-of-contract filler." I hope not. No! Que Bueno Esta is four live tracks where you get the band in full rocking mode. Then you get six remixes, which is where I start to have very serious problems with this cd. These remixes I find mind-numbingly dull, mono-rhythmical excursions that feature Bamboleo more or less, mainly less. You might say that these house and chemical-style things are not aimed at me or my taste, but I would disagree.
I have nothing against Latin house, merengue rap or any other of the big-thump hybrids that populate the club scene in certain cities in America. In fact I play such tracks every week at my Saturday night session. So I tried a few tracks off this release there. But they sounded awful, so dated, without any of the humor and brio that jumps up and grabs you by the neck in the output of populist groups like Fulanito, Projecto Uno, Sandy and Papo MC or Sidestepper. Nor do they have the intensity of the New York Latin house tracks. Even the well-respected L.A. rapper Mellow Man Ace undistinguishes himself on one track. But I suppose if these tracks go big in the U.S. small-town rave scene they might have served a useful purpose, but I doubt if they will.
What would go over big in the rave scene anywhere in the world is Brenda Fassie. The veteran singer has found a new voice in the burgeoning South African kwaito scene. Kwaito (Stern's) pulls together 14 examples of this this popular rough-and-ready homegrown style, which fuses a bit of thump with trad bump, to a very engaging end. It may be a bit cheesy at times with its fourthgeneration house riffs and vocals; it is derivative, but at least it's honest. Equally the reggae influences in kwaito may be many generations along the line, but that's the way the musical ripples have spread out round the world. The best of the three Brenda Fassie tracks featured on this compilation is "Vuli Ndlela (Remix)" where she wails away soulfully before the bump sets in to create a hugely popular mover. While "Siya Jola (Ok'salayo)" from M'Du recycles elements of New York soul pioneers the Peech Bros. from their classic hit "Don,t Make Me Wait." Kwaito may be too commercial and populist for some people, but there's some damn fine grooves in there. This release is a recent snapshot of where the action has been and is in this vibrant scene.
Ethiopiques Vol. 8: Swinging Addis (Buda Musique) is some of the most jazz-led, funkiest, most r&b-ized, most twisted Twist ever produced in the history of Ethiopian music. Music that murdered the dance floors of the hip clubs over the years from '69 to '74. Those of you who are fans of volumes one through seven in this series will know what I mean when I say compiler and producer Francis Falceto has really outdone himself this time. Volume eight is just ram-packed solid with incredible tracks, like the opening tune >from the great singer and arranger Girma Bèyené. "Enè Négn Bay Manèsh" has incredibly emotional smokey vocals, rinky-dink organ and a firing horn section. You can tell Addis and Asmara must have been really swinging in those days when you listen to the hair-raising funky blasts and grunts of Ayalèw Mèsfin's James Brown-alike track "Hasabé." Or Alèmayèhu's Eshèté's deep Stax gumbo with "Betchayén Tègodahu," which must have got the floor really going.
The informative sleeve notes quote a local newspaper report from May 1966, talking about Addis nightlife which ends up with the cautionary note: [In the first class night clubs] The visitors to these places are extravagant and they spend money very foolishly. They don't think of tomorrow and most of the time they take things around very easily. So Addis by night is like this and the activities usually end at wee hours of the night thus giving the shift to the gaysome day. Same the whole world over, isn,t it mate? So another essential one for the Horn of Africa collection. If you liked the funky jazzy and soul side of things on the other Ethiopiques then you will just love this one to death. Trust me. [Distributed by Allegro; www.allegro-music.com]
You can find the classic track "Yegelle Tezeta" by Mulatu Astatqé (as featured on Ethiopiques Vol. 4) on a compilation called The Shrine Presents Afrobeat, the Funkiest Music Ever Made (Ocho). The Shrine are club promoters and djs Rita Ray, Nikki Lucus and Max Reinhardt, who, taking their name from Fela's legendary club, have mined the Afrobeat theme at sessions at various venues around London. This release I suppose could be described as the soundtrack to their club. Let us be clear, the music on this cd could not be called "straight" Afrobeat. Yes, it is African music; yes, you do get classic Fela opening up proceedings with "Fefe Naa Efe." You get the aforementioned Ethiopian song, then up pops '60s Congo stars Bantou Jazz with their rousing version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Wacha Wara," then a New Orleans-African twist called "Eje Kajo" by someone called Jimi Solanke. Nigerian oldster C.K. Mann gives us "Funky Highlife," which after its claps and call-response-vocals beginning, breaks down into James Brown before ending up somewhere down Bo Diddley's way. Faves like King Sunny Ade's "Syncro System" rub shoulders with Manu Dibango's "Waka Africa" and Tony Allen's "NEPA Dance Dub" via all kind of obscurities on this eclectic excursion.
Meanwhile Club Africa 2 (Strut) takes confident steps into another volume, compiled by dj Russ Dewbury from the tunes that have been exciting him and his club crowd for years. This compilation continues on in the same funky area as volume one but also holds some surprises. Here you will find classics like jazz man Roy Ayer's Afrobeat experiment with Fela, "Black Family," alongside English jazzist sax man Bukky Leo's freaked-out Afrobeat workout, "Precious Mother." Manu Dibango and his epic "New Bell." Exile One with "Funky Crookie." Sorry, I'll read that again: Exile One with "Funky Crookie." Yes, I know about the spelling of Cookie. But what are seminal '70s Dominican kompa crossover stars Exile One doing on a English compilation titled Club Africa? Answer: "The Funky Crookie," stupid. OK, I should have known better than to ask that question.
After Babatunde Olatunji gives us one of his fearsome drum blasts and Letta Mbulu has smoothed our soul with her silky vocals, Living Funk steps forward to top out the compilation, urging us to "Let Your Mind Take the Place of Your Body." Now how did that old saying go? Free your ass and your mind will follow? or was it free your mind and your ass will follow? Hmmm, maybe it was follow your ass and your mind will be free. No, no, that could not be right, it must be, and mind ass follow free will be your your.
Two books that I heartily endorse come in the shape of Dave Katz's Lee Perry biography People Funny Boy (Payback Press) and Penny Reel's Deep Down With Dennis Brown (Drake Bros.). Katz's fact-filled exploration of the life and myth of Scratch is a densely entertaining book which clears out lots of the clutter that has evolved around the Lee Perry deity, while also fleshing out many parts of the Upsetter story. Essential reading, and not only for Lee Perry fans.
Deep Down With Dennis Brown, subtitled Cool Runnings and the Crown Prince of Reggae: A Short Story is another very entertaining and fact-rich read. Penny Reel is a walking encyclopedia of Jamaican music. He is a man who has been so deeply immersed in Jamaican music and culture over the last 35 or so years that these days he is not white, not black, nor is he in-between gray. His writing marks him out as a genuine authentic character and chronicler of the development and paths of Jamaican music in London. As a journalist writing the "Station Underground" column for the weekly black music newspaper Black Echoes as well as other various disparate publications like the New Music Express and fanzine Pressure Drop, he has been on the pulse of the bass line longer than any other person and journalist I know. He has been there since time wore short trousers.
This book came about with the death last year of Dennis when Penny was assembling and revising the collection of interviews he had conducted with JA stars over the years. The view was to pull them together for a book covering the London underground reggae scene. With Dennis, untimely demise, Penny decided to extricate and develop the chapter he had created about D.E.B for this separate tome. Part of "this tale," as Penny describes it, is constructed from an article he wrote for NME in 1979 when Money in My Pocket was breaking into the English charts.
Mr. Reel has a way with words. His prose is a wonderful richly distilled Runyon-esque mixture of Yard talk and Cockney rhyming slang, with Penny as narrator taking the distanced third-party I&I stance. One of my favorite lines in this NME article comes when he is describing the point in the mid '60s when white and black youth started mixing together for the first time, with music and clothes as the catalyst. He eloquently twists part of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech into "the Rock Steady beat rumbles, it sometimes seems that the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his two-tone mohair whistle." (For those of you not au fait with Cockney rhyming slang: whistle and toot = suit.)
If you want to read about the early life of Dennis Emmanuel Brown and
also want a clear snapshot of how the Jamaican music business operated in
London during this period, then reach for this book. It is published by
Penny himself so if you want a copy, talk to him at www.reggae reggaereggae.com.
So, a doff of the titfer to Penny Reel for such an engrossing read. (Titfer:
tit for tat = hat.)
Copyright 2000 Dave Hucker