Trying to find everything I want in one musical style might be like seeking an all-in-one "almost perfect" lover. But music is my mistress…About as close as I can come to a musical home nowadays is found on labels putting out the unclassifiable further reaches of outernational dub: Echo Beach, Select Cuts, !K7/ G-Stone, Guidance, Different Drummer, and Stereo Deluxe.

          I'm drawn to dub that is revolutionary, both musically and socially. Music that opens minds and sometimes has the power to change lives. Revolutionary dub that is capable of moving a global audience, nowadays, is usually influenced by the drum and bass revolution, among other musical evolutions. Since I spend a lot of time speaking Spanish and listening to music of Latin America, dub that is soaking up vibes from "nuestra América" and the Afro-Caribbean would be icing on the cake. Which is just the whole package being put together by collectives like Trio Elétrico, Boozoo Bajou, and the Funky Lowlives, all three on the German label Stereo Deluxe, the source of the CDs reviewed below.

          In his essay "Living With Music," Ralph Ellison recalled being a young writer in a noisy New York apartment. Amidst the "chaos of sound" he "hungered and thirsted for quiet." On one side of the tiny apartment was a courtyard with singing/preaching drunks; on another side was a resident with a powerful jukebox; above was an aspiring opera singer, and on yet another side a devotee of big bands played Basie loud enough to vibrate Ellison's typewriter off its stand.

Young Ralph Ellison.

Older Ralph Ellison.

          One morning Ellison decided to "fight noise with noise." He turned on his radio full blast and heard Kathleen Ferrier singing Handel's Rodelinda: "Art thou troubled? Music will calm thee…"

          Ah, yes. "One good thing about music, when it hits you you feel no pain." "Music take you places," Bob Marley said. Sometimes takes you where you don't want to go.

          As a writer, for me "Living in Music" requires a soundtrack that gives me space to roam and imagine new worlds. I need a groove to keep me moving in the right direction, but usually a minimum of words, with sounds that evoke the many cultures that shape my life. I can live pleasantly within a broad genre whose various facets are variously called downtempo (Thievery Corporation), Broken Beats (Mujaji), ambient dub / chillout (early Groove Armada or Sounds From the Ground), intelligent drum'n'bass (LTJ Bukem), trip hop, dub tech, etc. But like Ellison says, "One learns by moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar." So I've been exploring the links between this meditative bass music, and the more frenetic rhythms that come through my walls, like the high octane UK and European electronic scene that has splintered in untold directions since 1994.

          Like anyone who is passionate about music, I look for sounds that both fit and expand my state of mind and way of life. Living in music means to carry music as a vibes as you move through the world. Music is in some ways a shield to protect I from unpleasant reality. But it's also a key or a looking glass to transport us into life as it should be. And so music is always social, even in the privacy of the home. There are always other people, there is community in the music. And what do we do with these other people?

          "Forget your troubles and dance."

          Music reflects, amplifies, distorts and re-interprets our pre-occupations. Sex, bling bling, lookin' good, getting' over, you done me wrong but now I am strong.

          I want to grow in music, and move towards the unfamiliar, even as my music reaffirms (and re-imagines) the best of what I know. So I seek out bass music that is the soundtrack of social movements that seek not only release, but liberation. That provide an expanded sense of the world's possibilities. As Brian Nordhoff of Groove Corporation (G-Corp) says, that is the "dream of making the perfect medicine, something to uplift our spirit."

          "This is the dub revolution…"
          That disembodied voice leads off the "Revolutionary Theme" track by The Disciples on the first release of the legendary "King Size Dub" series. That CD on the Germany-based Echo Beach label was released in 1995, as reggae-inspired jungle music in the UK was morphing into "the drum'n'bass revolution."

          Recorded in England about 1994, "Revolutionary Theme" is within the trajectory of Jamaican dub, although with some European inflections. Ten years later, it sounds tame to me. Even Tubby sounds tame. The revolution has gone outernational and is several dizzying galaxies removed from its roots (although the echoes from the roots, and the forms forwarded from yard, are constant). I use the voice at the beginning of this Disciples song for a sample now, on radio, between other pieces of mostly post-Jamaican dub. Most artists making the outernational dub I play are doing the same thing: they pull up pieces of Jamaican music-a voice here, a bassline or rimshot there-to ground revolutionary reconstructions. But my ears are about as distant from the dub revolution of Jamaican music as the contemporary United States, "long shed of its revolutionary outlook," is from its Revolutionary war. (If I follow the echoes of the Selassie-praise in roots dub, it might take me back to slaves with rifles singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" in the hopes of gaining their freedom).

          "In any revolution, music is a bang-up weapon," wrote Greg Burk in the L.A. Weekly. It took Jamaica to "distill the essence of revolutionary sound," he thinks. True enough for dub, but there have been many revolutionary moments accompanied by rebellious sounds. European composers combined American jazz and European folk music into something totally new, a soundtrack to bloodbaths on the continent, and artistic modernism. Bebop jazz artists styled themselves as revolutionary, even while deconstructing bland pop songs. The beat movement carried their rebel stances into the 1960s, when other musics calling themselves revolutionary, such as "free jazz" and rock'n'roll, were soundtracks as the world spun crazily and threatened for a brief time to come off its hinges. Hiphop picked up the banner in the 1980s, and continues to claim revolutionary status even as it has devolved into a fashion show.

          The evolution from the "revolutionary dub" of the 1970s in Jamaica, to the jungle revolution of the early 1990s in the UK, is easy to see. English youth of that era grew up with dub. When they became producers, they often looked for acceptance, and legitimation, from Caribbean musicians. There are plenty of pointers along the way about creative fusions of roots dub with electronica, from Aswad's "A New Chapter of Dub" (1982) to Rebel M.C.'s "Wickedest Sound" (1991). Since many of these future junglists were former soulboys and breakbeat freaks, this next step was natural. Jungle was "the UK's hip-hop," a British expatriate told me, mixing reggae basslines with sped-up hip hop breakbeats, grafted onto a techno-rave culture which was itself the UK's response the American house music.

          But how we got from mid-1990s dub to, say, "Viva la Revolución" by the Strike Boys in 2001 is still something of a mystery to me. The bassline concept from dub remained, but as the jungle scene degenerated into rhetorical and physical violence, drum and bass producers mostly moved away from explicit Jamaican influences (even tho "Black Brits" have been central players on the scene). The dub scene proper was "seen merely as a rootsier adjunct to the orbital rave"; then the Jamaican voicing of truth and rights mostly disappeared from drum and bass.

          In the early 1990s, it was still common to find explicit references to Rasta-inspired music and culture in UK electronic music. The visionary group Dreadzone begins their 1992 song "Zion Youth" with prophecy: "Blood will run unless justice comes-the warning." They end with this restatement of Rasta millennial consciousness: "The circle of time and history closes, and out of the triumph of righteousness will come the reign of peace, love, and justice."

          I heard some of the first shots of that jungle revolution in 12-inches brought back from England by my Idren DJ-RJ in Austin. At that point the connection to Jamaican music was ubiquitous-like New Blood's "Worries in the Dance," which samples Frankie Paul and Black Uhuru's "Sinsemilla." Friends turned me on to breakers of this rapidly evolving global wave. An Anglo dread in Norman brought back some pre-millenial jungle from London; at this point, it had shed most Jamaican stylings and had gone beat crazy. When I went to London in 2000, I found music shops divided into electronic and non-electronic sections, the latter a poorer and sometimes hostile older cousin. The sparks of the dub revolution, alchemized in electronic music, had ignited a fire that was sweeping across European music. I picked up the 1999 edition of King Size Dub (#5), my first exposure to this series. This CD was a landmark for me, a doorway to the dub I'd always heard in my head, but had seldom found on record.

          In St. Louis my friend Michael Kuelker, a writer and reggae DJ, turned me onto the Select Cuts from Blood & Fire series. This branch of the dub revolution, along with the King Size Dub series, were examples of bridges between the electronic and roots worlds in which the bassman was still singing. But remix artists like Smith and Mighty, the Stereo MC's, Asian Dub Foundation, and Transglobal Underground were making a dub with complicated, occasionally frenetic rhythms. This must be something like the dub listened to by those fictional dreads of distant galaxies in Necromancer, I thought.

          In Minneapolis-St. Paul, I hooked up with Michael Rose, the host of the award-winning "Echo Chamber." This is the only show I've heard that plays the whole of the dub revolution, "the most mysterious music ever created," a reviewer said, from the very deepest, smoky, scratchy Jamaican studios to the farthest reaches of the 21st century artists around the globe making the "whale call of groove music." Rose plays a good deal of latter-day trip hop, which I'd mostly missed out on when it was a fad in the UK, but which came back to me in the 21st century through global artists far removed from the so-called "Bristol Sound." Rose is part of a network that schools me, extending to Europe, Australia, and Latin America. The dub I-ternity.

          It was mainly through the outrageously inventive remixes and reconstructions of Echo Beach and Select Cuts labels that I made my way back from Jamaican dub to the startling variety of offshoots currently sparking musical revolutions across the breadth of Europe. This led me to Kruder & Dorfmeister, and their various side projects such as Tosca. Once you have entered the world of Austrian and German modern dub, you go through the looking glass and discover a musical Pangea, linking Africa, Europe, and Latin America.

          A good starting point to this world is the consistently challenging imprint Stereo Deluxe out of Nürnberg. This review is dedicated to the legacy of Stereo Deluxe founder Oli Rösch, who passed on August 1, 2002, a few days short of his 45th birthday.

Boozoo Bajou.

          Let's say that, instead of having to suffer the selections of your neighbor's juke box, like Ellison, you could stock that juke box with your own favorites. Or place that jukebox in favorite getaways around the planet, so you'd feel at home wherever you go. This seems to be the idea of Boozoo Bajou's "Juke Joint," a remarkable 20-song CD unlike any other in memory.

          It is soon apparent that like most European groovemasters, Boozoo Bajou are "white boys in love with black beauty," as Ziggy Marley once sang. And in love with Latin rhythms, as with many German and British groove-meisters. The group is composed of Peter Heider and Florian Seyberth, self-described "musical ethnologists" who have traveled widely in South America and the Caribbean. Their first single "Night Over Manaus," released in 1998, has been widely anthologized on collections such as 21st Century Chillout. Downbeat fans will know them through their remix of Tosca's "Chocolate Elvis," and they've gotten some exposure in R&B with a sultry re-creation of the Common/Mary Blige duo "Come Close."

          "What are these guys, Cajun music?" a friend asked me on seeing their name.

           Far from it, although not too far, on this unique collection. The second song on Juke Joint is "Camioux," a swampy Nawlins concoction with Wayne Martin's deep, sonorous voice setting the tone for much of the CD. (Martin, an "elder statesman" of soul, is now Berlin-based). "Like a chameleon, we're changing every day" is the hook of this bluesy excursion. There are a few of Boozoo Bajou's downtempo funky vibes here, like the delicious "Portland Woodchamber." But these are not abstract triphop vibes. The boys are taking us to where they feel most at home. From the sound of voices in the background, and the insects and frogs woven into "Woodchamber," I'd guess this is Portland, Jamaica.

          After "Portland" the jukebox spins John Lee Hooker's "Going to Louisiana." A jumping off point for German guys in love with the music of the African diaspora. Hooker is followed by a miminalist meditation called "Jah Rule" by Rhythm and Sound with Tikiman. Just a gentle rhythm like the waves lapping on the beach, with a voice reminding us, "Jah Rules Over All." As if to say, even in a juke joint in Louisiana, you will find the music of the Caribbean. Or that on jukeboxes all over the world, the music of the little Island of Jamaica makes itself heard. And sure enough, we head to Jamaica next for three reggae tunes. Freddie McGregor's 1982 boom shot "Big Ship" has an appropriate lyric for the languid mood of this CD:
"Big ships sailing on the ocean
We don't need no commotion."

          We get reminders of the liberation tradition from which this music comes: "Holy Mount Zion" by Wayne Jarrett (backed by Wackies Riddim Force), and Gregory Isaac's 1977 hit "Set the Captives Free." In a non-reggae mode, Willie Wright's soulful "Right on for the Darkness" is also a sufferer's tune. It was penned by Curtis Mayfied, which makes it a common point of reference to virtually all genres represented on this CD:
"I am so blind and I can't seem to understand
Where is this thing called justice?"

          Some other treats here: the title track of Mousse T's 2002 album on Peppermint Jam Records, "Gourmet de Funk." "As an ancient drum pounds deliberately, reminding me of every heart that ever beat in ever man." This sounds like something Michael Franti might do. Techno artist Jiri Ceiver is represented with an atypical slow funk, scratch-that-itch Tosca-ish tune called "Ycool." There is a gorgeous old school Philly-style funky soul called "Real" by UKO (Jurgen and Martin Nussbaum), the soaring spacious feel of its Barry White-style strings accompanied by samples of NASA takeoff voices. And then there is an "unplugged" piece by Groove Armada called "Little by Little," from their excellent "Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub)" CD. It meanders along for over two minutes before a Richie Havens vocal comes in, and then the song gradually takes on an anthemic feel:
          "Perhaps we've gone too far, Perhaps we should slow down
          and be where we really are…Try living today."

           There are a few misses, as on any jukebox. "Railway Palace" by Burnt Friedman and the Nu-Dub Players sound too disjointed for my ears, in this set. It features what sounds like a toothless old man, the singer of "Chocolate Elvis" about 30 years down the road, muttering indecipherable phrases. "Blue Car" by Greg Brown perhaps serves to show how closely related the blues and country really are.

          "Blue Car" is among several unexpected turns in the homestretch of this CD. Heider and Seyberth feature fine compositions by a couple of singer-songwriters which, although not the best of fits musically, are certainly linked lyrically. Actually, the guys call Terry Callier "a soul legend" and Paul Weller "original soulboy," which I guess goes to show how expansive is their definition of soul.

           Terry Callier is a Chicago singer-songwriter with a cult following. His 1972 cut "Ordinary Joe" is musically sort of Motown-style pop. The lyric tells us What Music is For:
"I'm laughing to just to keep from crying
Bringing music, when you hear it
Keep on trying to get near it
A little rebound for your spirit"

          Paul Weller's "Wild Wood" has this acoustic take on the struggles of sufferers:
"Climbing forever trying
Find your way out - of the wild wild wood
Now there's no justice
There's only yourself - that you can trust in"

           "Juke Joint" has two seemingly inconsequential bookends that came to seem appropriate as this album grew on me through repeated listenings. We enter with Augustus Pablo's melodica on a wisp of a song called "Star" by Primal Scream. And we exit with a little slice of "street atmosphere" recorded by our hosts in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Just like the music of a small dancehall in Jamaica, or a blues joint in the U.S., there is no separation from "real life" here.

           This album inspired respect for artists in a genre often criticized for its artifice. The duo felt it was important to put this passage on their website: "Boozoo Bajou instrumentalising Third World musical treasures never ever gives you the feeling of blantant colonialistic exploitation or false solidarity for the exploited. This music is born out of serious respect and careful distance to the object of obsession." Others will interpret their "ethnological" obsessions in different ways. But the fact that the artists are at least conscious of musical colonialism leads me to take a second look at their aspiration to be a sort of "first world answer to Sly & Robbie."

          If "Juke Joint" gives us a clearer picture us Boozoo Bajou's broader musical community, "Remixes," released in the spring of 2003, places them within the context of their associations with other electronic arts. Most of the 14 cuts here are reconstructions of cuts from the addictive 2001 Boozoo alubm, "Satta!"

          The obvious commercial hook is the first tune here, "Come Close," a duet by Common and Mary J. Blige. The slinky beat and slide guitar are sweet!
"I see the God in you, I just want to nurture it."

          There are three remixes of "Under mi Sensi." The Les Demons Fleurs version, which appeared on Virtual Brazilia, has a samba-ish beat and fragments of a female scat vocal. My favorite is the Funky Lowlives Low Immersion Dub, previously on Black Coffee Chapter Three. The "Under mi Sensi" by Thievery Corporation, from Bassic Instinct II, sounds like a rather generic TC, with Rhodes and soft drums.

          There are two remixes of Camious. The "Melodica Cut" is a marked improvement on the original. The Bigga Bush remix is more mechanical, or dance-floor oriented, with programmed Latin percussion. It features a complete breakdown to swamp sounds and bass at 1:50, then the entry of a salsa piano at about 2:40.

          The Soulboy Collective remix of "Night Over Manaus" is a delight. As is the "Switchblade" mix of the Funky Lowlives tune "Bella Luna": "dark gliding shapes."

Trio Elétrico.

          Trio Elétrico is something of an electronic supergroup, comprised of Peter Heider of Boozoo Bajou, Ekki Elétrico, who runs the "Wildstyle" collective along with Tommy Yamaha of the Strike Boys, and Peter Hoppe.

          When I first played this CD, I knew nothing about the group. But of all the CDs reviewed here, this one has impressed me most, musically. I see why Trio Elétrico has become known as Stereo Deluxe's "flagship outfit," though this is their first CD. They've gotten some commercial exposure through the inclusion of pieces of "Echo Parcours" on the "Bacardi Silver" TV ads in North America, and a "BMW Mini" ad in Europe. The whole album has great flow, and I would probably only mislead many people if I tried to put nu jazz, dub, and funk in the same sentence.

          The name of the group itself is a reference to the trio electrico trucks of Salvador, Brazil, on which bands play during the Bahian Carnival. (Timbalada is the best known example of the tradition in commercial music).

          This is an incredibly successful collaboration, as Yuri Wuensch wrote on Raves.com, unique in how it "riffs on the dub template and takes it into so many directions." Among many highlights is "Por Donde Vas," an absolutely hellacious groove (Latin-trip-hop ragga, as Wuensch sees it). The Spanish lyric by Don Caramello is straight up revolutionary:
"I walk slowly so I can observe
Those who want to control us
Who tell us pure lies
Who swarm us like a bunch of ants…
But the word gives us power
I swear to you, my people will rise us"

          As with Boozoo Bajou, a love for music of the African diaspora is ever-present. "Goo" is how a southerner with a syrupy voice pronounces "good": "If you wanna hear something that sounds goo, you go to one o dem country churches. Just ease in, siddown, an listen." Oh yeah!

          This is music to get your neck working in the office, on the dancefloor, in your ride, or wherever neck-working is still legal. Check the funky organ groove of "Mono Bird": pure aural pleasure. The mixture of French accordion, deep soul groove, jazz licks, and Latin beats on "Wandance Paris." Or "Return of the Coconut Groove," a dancefloor favorite in Germany. As the divas sing on "Somewhere Behind," "we've come to set it right."

Funky Lowlives.

          I first heard of the The Funky Lowlives through their remix for Tosca's "Honey" Project. This UK duo of John Whitehouse and Gary Danks is a recent arrival on the electronic/downbeat scene, but they've released a series of high-quality singles, such as "Inside" on G-Stone, "Latazz" and "Latin Nights" on Ascension, and "Urban Illusion" for Stereo Deluxe.

          They are perhaps closer to the smooth urban vibes of Tosca than to Boozoo Bajou, but this group is actually classified as Latin. With good reason, since Latin American rhythms are their usual point of departure. (Listeners interested in this fusion should check out Richard Blair's highly original Sidestepper project).

          Some of the Lowlives' best work is in remixes, and doesn't appear on this CD. I'm thinking for instance of the remake of Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," or various Brazilian collaborations, such as the "Breathless" remix of Suba's "Tributo."

          But "Cartouche" is one of those downtempo CDs that you could probably take into any workspace. I mean it as a compliment when I say that this music can provide ambience for many different environments, without turning into aural wallpaper. Musically, two of my favorites were "Saturn Return", a modern samba with a vocal by Clare Szembec, and the groovalicious "Cumagain." There are a couple of vocals that reward, if not demand, closer inspection. "Urban Illusion" features a hook on clarinet, and a rap about city blues:
"Late night music, we get high to it
and lose the confusion, and burn urban illusion"

          Shades of Bob Marley's "burning down certain illusions in our minds"!
          "Games We Play" features Ms. Szembec again on breathy vocals with these lines that stuck in my mind:
"The more we grow the less we think we need to change
The less we show the less we'll know what to replace"

Strike Boys.

          Electro-Bavarian soulstars Tommy Yamaha and Martin Kaisa have now released their third album, "Playtime," under the name The Strike Boys. Their music is closer to modern electronic dance music than anything else reviewed here.

          "I Am A Witness" combines a post-house rhythm with reggae-style horns, and a passionate vocal from label-mate Emo from Denmark: "I can taste the sweetness on the tip of my tongue."

          There are two songs here featuring Cyrena Dunbar, a graduate of the Alberta Ballet School of Dance, and since 2001 a member of Ballet Nürnberg. "Find My Way" is a slower echo-y groove with a nice lyric from Dunbar. There are also two contributions from the talented young female toaster M..C. Blaze, including "Everybody," a more dubby excursion with a dancehall style vocal.

          Stereo Deluxe's second sampler, released in Spring 2004, will give listeners tastes of the label's roster working in a broad range of styles. This includes a "Peckham Royalty" remix of The Funky Lowlives' "Irreplaceable"; Trio Eléctrico "Creeper Lane"; and the aforementioned "I Am a Witness" by the Strike Boys with Emo, in a "Danger Dub" mix with a stronger reggae feel. "What Kind of Woman" (turns you on) is a funny song (while maintaining the downtempo vibes) from Soul'n'Soda. There are also some dance numbers like the catchy "The Sunshine" by Loungechic Productions, as well "Gonna Be," in a nu jazz style, by Mo' Horizons. Bobby Hughes is a talented soul singer, but I've heard him put to better use than the "Vegetarian Mix" of "Goi." (But I've got to give props for bringing that word "vegetarian" into the mix).

Glyn "Bigga" Bush.

          Glyn "Bigga" Bush worked during the 1990s with the Rockers Hi Fi collective, as well as his Lightning Head project. Since then he has expanded his skills with remixes for artists in several genres, from Ennio Morricone to Ella Fitzgerald (check the startling remake of "Sunshine of your Love," with Ella's voice, on the 2001 Groove Corporation Remixes).

          His debut album on Stereo Deluxe, "Bigga Bush Free," is simply unclassifiable. At times he is closer to modern electronic dance beats than dub reconstructions. But there is plenty of music here that is flat out ambient, and I don't mean ambient dub.

          If there is a common theme, it would be basslines derived from the Jamaican dub trajectory, combined with Bigga Bush's trademark "chattering percussion" and idiosyncratic atmospheric effects. "Bigga Beatbox" is dubbish downtempo, but it's got a skittering cymbal beat that might be one of many interlocking rhythms in a D&B polyrhythmic symphony. In isolation, those chattering rhythms take on a melodic quality.

          "Sole Sister" is ambient music that takes time to build. Slowly, dreamlike distant drums fade in, often no more than slow-motion delays, echoes of musical worlds being reprocessed from a considerable distance, in a different state of mind or consciousness.

          "Mouseflex" is ambient dub. There's no real theme here, but it creates a vibe, first with the kind of skittering electronic motifs Sly & Robbie used to employ, and then the vibes take on a new quality after three minutes when the strings enter. This sounds like Bigga Bush has a feature in soundtrack music, should he so desire.

           Several songs exhibit a playful impishness. "Throwdown" sounds like it might have been inspired by one of those simple classic Jamaican rhythms like "Run Come," but it's also got irresistible scratching by DJ Jay Rees.

           But after several listenings, what stays with me are the moments of sheer beauty. In "IOTK," a meditation I'll call ambient for lack of a better term, a plucked harp repeats a pattern like the drone of an Indian raga, with similar effects. I'll leave my readers with a quote from a simply lovely song called "This River," featuring a vocal by Sofiah Thom. It features the repeated refrain: "The grace of God moves me into dance."

Article written by Gregory Stephens.(May 2004)
(Please do not reproduce without permission).

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