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(Above: Reggae pioneers the Skatalites pay tribute to Dave Brubeck, and prove that it is possible to skank to jazz.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The original run of the Skatalites lasted barely over a year. That brief window has proved to be more than enough time to build a legacy strong to survive nearly half a century later.

The music the seven-piece island band played for two hours at Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club on Thursday night transformed the sound of Jamaican music, but has deep tentacles into many forms of American music, including jazz, doo wop, R&B, gospel and even country.

The band never tried to hide its influences. “Music is My Occupation” reappropriated the horn line from “Ring of Fire.” Next, on their version of the James Bond theme, the famous surf guitar was transferred to a punchy horn line. The arrangement inspired more dancing than danger. Think of it as the soundtrack to the scene after the big fight, when 007 waltzes away with the girl.

Three horns lined the front of the stage, proclaiming the band’s strength. Founding member Lester Sterling played an old saxophone that looked like it had been rescued from a shipwreck but never failed to summon a melody pure and true. The big rhythm section included keyboards and guitar. They players may have been hidden behind the brass, but never played second fiddle.

The band had no problem moving the tricky 5/4 time of Dave Brubeck’s signature “Take Five” to a ska beat. Originally recorded with Val Bennett as “The Russians are Coming,” the piece featured Sterling’s longest solo of the night and proved he could hang with the players in the Blue Room any night.

When Sterling wanted to show off ska’s versatility, he launched the band into a cover of “I Should Have Known Better.” The Beatles were contemporaries when the Skatalties first laid down their version. A cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” – courtesy of drummer Trevor Thompson – and the spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved” were the night’s only vocal moments.

The two-hour set was generous to a fault. While the room was packed for the first hour, there was plenty of elbow room when “The Guns of Navarone,” the band’s biggest song, finally emerged near the end. Most of the instrumentals employed a similar arrangement, allowing some sameness to eventually creep. The performances were always energetic, however, and kept a steady flow of dancing near the stage.

Purists can quibble over the lack of original members onstage and they’d have a point. Sterling is the only founding member, and almost half the band wasn’t born when the Skatalites were at their peak in Studio One. Blame Father Time for the attrition then ask if the music should be forced to pass along with its musicians.

Sterling put it another way between numbers: “When you’re good, you’re good.”

They’re good.

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(Above: “We and Dem” was one of several new cuts the Original Wailers performed in Kansas City.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

New material can be problematic for established acts. At a Kemper Arena concert several years ago, Elton John apologized for playing new songs and promised the he’d get to the hits as quickly as possible.
The Original Wailers took the opposite track Friday at the Voodoo Lounge, making several tracks from their upcoming album the centerpiece of the show. The gamble paid off.

Bob Marley casts a long shadow over all reggae acts, but the Original Wailers are especially stricken: Their two guitarists, J unior Marvin and Al Anderson, played with Marley on some of his greatest albums, including “Exodus” and “Uprising.”

The seven-piece band didn’t overlook those moments, but it was clear they want to be remembered as something more as well. After introducing themselves with a trio of Marley numbers, they dove into several songs from the as-yet unreleased album “Justice.”
Wailers1
Even though the crowd couldn’t sing along, they didn’t seem to mind. Part of this had to do with band’s enthusiasm for the numbers. It was evident they were happy to be playing their new creations, and as a result the performances bounced a little bit higher. The other reason is that the songs maintained several of Marley’s hallmarks, like socially conscious, yet upbeat lyrics underlined by gospel organ lines and subtly textured guitar parts.

“Blackbird Fly” was dedicated to the late Joseph Hill from Culture and floated as effortlessly as its title implied. “Backslider” was a song about hypocrites in the vein of “Who the Cap Fit,” and “We and Dem” featured a nifty dub bass-and-drum breakdown.

After several new songs, Anderson declared the band would take a request. There were shouts for “I Shot the Sheriff” and “No Woman No Cry.” Both were good suggestions; neither was played. Instead, the band played another new number, “What’s Love Supposed To Do.” It might have been a cruel trick, but the poppy number kept everyone dancing happily.

Marvin and keyboard player Desi Hyson shared vocal duties. The pair were as much educators as entertainers, pausing between tracks to frame each song. The song “Justice” was prefaced by a quote from founding Wailer Peter Tosh, which drew a big cheer.

The band didn’t deliver a big Marley hit until nearly halfway through the two-hour show. The Voodoo Lounge wasn’t close to full, but just about everyone in the place ran onto the dance floor during the opening chords of “Three Little Birds.” A more obscure cut “Heathen,” also from the “Exodus” album, kept the floor crowded thanks to Anderson and Marvin’s extended solos. A master of feel, Anderson added touches of Latin, psychedelica, blues and even metal into the songs.

After introducing “Jammin’” the crowd didn’t need an incentive to stick around, but Marvin gave them one anyway, leading them through dance steps, hand claps and a call and response. Anderson added a weird, dissonant blues riff to the mix that didn’t seem to fit but somehow worked. As the band worked the groove, backing vocalist Erica Newell, spurred on by fans near the stage, unleashed her funkiest dance moves of the night.

Wailers2After a brief break, Anderson resumed the stage alone, playing a guitar solo that recalled Jimmy Page’s “White Summer/Black Mountainside.” Eventually joined by drummer Paapa Nyarkoh, the rest of the band fell in as he slid into the familiar intro to “Redemption Song.” The performance had a hymn-like solemnity until Marvin kicked it into doubletime, reworking the last verse into a ska number.

The night ended with a 15-minute romp through “Exodus” that wouldn’t quit. After jamming through all the verses, Nyarkoh took a drum solo that didn’t slow the dancing by a single step. Marvin eventually regained the stage, but the band wouldn’t stop, working the groove tighter and tighter as Anderson took a long solo. At this point there were two options: continue playing the number for the rest of the night, which no one on stage or in the crowd seemed to mind, or break it off immediately. Realizing the band had an upcoming gig and the audience may have weekend plans, Anderson chose the latter. If he hadn’t we might all still be dancing.

Setlist: Natty Dread, Rastaman Vibration, Forever Loving Jah, Solution, We Are the Children, Backslider, Justice, Pimper’s Paradise, We and Dem, Blackbird Fly, Three Little Birds, Heathen, What Love’s Supposed To Do, Jammin’. Encore: Al Anderson guitar solo > Redemption Song, Exodus/drum solo.

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