One More Reason
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A melange of musical styles incorporating superb singing, quality musicianship and a pertinent political message all wrapped up in infectious and eminently danceable grooves
“One More Reason” is the third album release from Soothsayers, the multi racial/cultural London based band led by trumpeter Robin Hopcraft and saxophonist Idris Rahman. The group’s début “Lost City” was rooted in a mixture of jazz, funk and afro beat with the follow up “Tangled Roots” adding soul and reggae to an already tasty musical brew.
This latest venture finds them delving deeper into dub reggae territory whilst retaining the key African elements that originally inspired the band. Mainstays Hopcraft and Rahman have gathered a host of musicians around them including Soothsayers regulars Phil Dawson (guitars), Patrick Illingworth (drums) and Idris’ sister Zoe Rahman (keyboards). Illustrious guests appear under the umbrella title of “The Red Earth Collective”, the moniker inspired both by the name of the band’s record label and by the bi-monthly Red Earth Collective sessions held at the Effra in Brixton.
Among those featured are vocalists Michael Prophet, Mellow Baku, Linval Thompson and reggae legend Johnny Clarke. It all adds up to a typically heady Soothsayers melange of musical styles incorporating superb singing,quality musicianship and a pertinent political message all wrapped up in infectious and eminently danceable grooves. As ever Hopcraft and Rahman remain the principal writers often with the involvement of the featured vocalist on a particular song.
The album kicks off with the brief “Intro” which introduces the dub element early on. This segues into “Music” a joyous hymn of praise to it’s subject featuring stabbing horns, reggae rhythms, vocal harmonies by Robin and Idris plus Zoe’s keyboard solo. A hugely invigorating start.
“We Better Learn” is apparently, a re-working of “Spottiottiedopaliscious” by U.S. hip hop band Outkast. In this guise it is a multi layered dub offering full of variously shimmering/churning keyboards, powerful horns and supple rhythms.
“Bad Boys” is a feature for the superlative vocals of Johnny Clarke, here a co-writer with Hopcraft and Rahman. In a powerful song with a seductive chorus he castigates the “Bad Boys” of this world, from politicians to street criminals. Meanwhile the instrumentalists cloak his words in a spookily effective sonic dub landscape. Plaudits are due to Rahman and Hopcraft (here on flugel) plus guitarist Derek Johnson, bassist Momo Hafsi and percussionists Richard Alijeye and Satin Singh.
“Slow Down” features the group’s afro beat leanings with massed choral vocals, a spoken voice over by hip hop artist HKB Finn together with the powerful horn work of Hopcraft and Rahman plus baritone specialist John Telfer.
Guest vocalist Michael Prophet collaborated with Hopcraft and Rahman in the writing of “Tears Of Sorrow”. Another legend of the reggae genre Prophet tackles the topical subject of gun crime and street killing. The lyrics express both warning and admonition as well as expressing hope for a better future.
“Irie” features singing sisters Mellow Baku and Michie One with Michie delivering the toasting over an urgent, infectious groove. With lyrics based on the Jamaican proverb “do good and good will follow you” it’s joyous, positive,life affirming music that you just can’t help smiling to.
Baku is credited as a co-writer on both “Irie” and the following “Hold On”. Her clear, powerful, gospel tinged voice is shown to it’s best effect on this uplifting hymn of defiance and stoicism in the face of adversity. The music incorporates both soul and reggae elements and provides an excellent foil to an outstanding vocal performance.
The brief but eerie “Mama Said” features the semi spoken vocals of guest artist and co-writer Bob Skeng. Djina Jones’ accompanying vocal chant adds Moroccan Gnawa music to the mix alongside the dark tones of Rahman’s bass clarinet. Odd, but effective.
The sinister skank of “Your Love” features the vocals of Johnny Clarke, sometimes double tracked to create an unsettling effect. Too dark to be tagged as “lover’s rock” the piece is a in some ways a continuation of the uneasy mood established By “Mama Said”.
The instrumental “River Effra” is presumably a celebration of the Red Earth Sessions alluded to previously. Based on the reggae hits “Armagideon Time” (by Willie Williams) and “Nice Up The Dance” (Michigan and Smiley) and utilising the “Real Rock” rhythm pioneered by the Soul Vendors this is principally a vehicle for visiting trombonist Trevor Edwards. Recently seen with Courtney Pine’s Afropeans group Edwards is an expressive soloist who here fills the Rico role with considerable aplomb.
The next guest artist is vocalist Linval Thompson, another major figure in Jamaican music.“History” is simultaneously a celebration and condemnation of his people’s roots with semi spoken verses offset by a powerful chorus. Like other items on the record this is a piece that would benefit from having the lyrics reproduced in the CD booklet. Not only would this enhance the enjoyment of the listener but it would help to get the band’s important political message across.
“We Must Return To Dub” reprises the track “We Must Return” from the group’s previous album “Tangled Roots”. It is presented here in the form of a remix by Mad Professor the Guyana born producer/engineer who has been making his mark on the UK reggae scene since the late 70’s. Kwame Yeboah’s melodica adds a distinctive touch to the instrumental palette.
The album concludes with “Tears In Dub” an instrumental Manesseh mix of the earlier Michael Prophet track. It combines dub sonics with the jazz influenced horn interplay of Hopcraft and Rahman.
“One More Reason” is another worthy chapter in the Soothsayers story and one that expands upon their experiments with reggae on “Tangled Roots”. The group’s message of tolerance and racial co-operation comes across as strongly as ever and the music and vocalising is of the high quality we have come to expect.
In many ways though this is music that is best experienced in a live context. The Soothsayers are a highly rhythmic and groove orientated outfit who appeal to the feet as much as to the head. They may have a serious message but they are a great band to dance to and a dynamic live act. Any band that can make you dance and think at the same time is alright with me.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
Ian Mann on two excellent, but very different, performances by Joanne Shaw Taylor and Lianne La Havas.
Guest contributor Trevor Bannister interviews alto saxophonist Johnty Wilks and enjoys a live performance of his mellow, meditative music at the South Street Arts Centre, Reading.