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Jamaican E.T. – Lee "Scratch" Perry

Trojan Records 80266-2
No one is completely sure who may be responsible for Lee "Scratch" Perry’s
very existence. The obvious choice would be Ina Blythe, Scratch’s earth
Mother, who bore Reinford Hugh "Lee" Perry to this planet, in March 1936 (+
or ) in St. Ann, Jamaica. Another possible choice may be the Emperor
Haile Selaisse I of Ethiopia, the mighty Jah Rastafari, Conquering Lion of
the Tribe of Judah, whose influence on all Jamaicans (good or bad) can never
be underestimated. The final option is possibly the most plausible.
"Scratch" has, on occasion given credit for his creation (or re-creation) to
a myriad of space travelers, usually hailing from the planet Jupiter.
Origins, terrestrial or extra, matter not: the mighty Upsetter, Lee
"Scratch" Perry is here for your amazement in past, present, and future
forms simultaneously.
Maybe you know Lee Perry as the eccentric producer of Bob Marley and the
Wailers "Soul Rebel" -era recordings, thought by many to be the pinnacle of
Marley and Family’s recorded output. Or maybe you know Lee Perry as the
technomajical toaster on the wonderful "Dr. Lee Ph D." track from the
Beastie Boys’ 1998 outing Hello Nasty. Or maybe you’ve heard of
Scratch as maverick experimental producer sought out by rock legends Paul
and Linda McCartney, Robert Palmer and The Clash. Even if you’ve never
heard of Lee Perry before, you’ve heard his genius in nearly everything you
hear today.
Lee "Scratch" Perry cut his musical teeth like many aspiring Jamaican
musicians, working for one of a handful of sound system operators/record
producers recording sides designed to lure dancehall patrons from their
cutthroat competitors. Often, as in the case of early Wailers tracks like
"Simmer Down", songs were recorded, mixed, pressed, and premiered to hungry
dancehall crowds in the very same day. There was a continual, often
violent, battle between sound system operators to provide the freshest ska
grooves by the newest artists, with lyrical messages composed in perfect
counterpoint to the pulse of the Jamaican street. When sound system
operators hit with a certain side, they developed a way to maximize the
impact of successful material by offering multiple versions of each track.
Beyond simple instrumental b-sides, these tracks were often be re-voiced for
different performers with different lyrics, or instrumental versions would
be reconstructed using various studio techniques of the day (mix-muting,
panning, reverb and extremely excessive amounts of echo). These epic
re-voicings, and rearrangements evolved from simple vocal overdubs to a
highly experimental, and expressive form of music that has influenced and
changed virtually all recordings, from the 1960s’ acid rock to the amazing
drum-n-bass productions of today. Lee Perry’s unparalleled contributions
to reggae music, as arranger, composer, producer, mixer, reggae chemist,
Black Arkologist, and madman, has continually defined and expanded the style
of music known as "dub" for nearly 40 years.
There has never been a better time to become acquainted with the mad genius
of Lee "Scratch" Perry. Numerous classic dub LPs from the mighty Upsetter
are in wide circulation nowadays, among them the experimental classic
Kung-Fu Meets the Dragon, the great Upsetters’ LPs Super Ape
and Return of the Super Ape, the Black Ark masterpiece Blackboard
Jungle Dub as well as Scratch’s productions of other artists, most
notably Junior Murvin’s exquisite Police and Thieves and the
essential Complete Bob Marley and the Wailers ,1967 to 1972 (part II)
three disc collection. (All three installments of the Complete
Wailers series are a must for any fan of reggae or Bob Marley.)
Hot on the heels of all this reissue activity comes Jamaican E.T a
15-track disc chock full of joyous insanity that traverses the worlds of
dub, free-form improvisational word-wizzydom, studio collage, dub bass
bombs, hip-hop funk and a plethora of conveniently categorized
indescribables. Fans of Scratch’s recent performances are well aware of the
wonder and playfulness he exudes on stage. Whether backed by live musicians
or his prot, the great dub producer/mixer Mad Professor mixing from
multitrack tapes, Scratch – bedecked in glittery suit and hat made of strung
together compact discs – wanders about stage spouting free-form
dubservations periodically accented by deadpan squonks from an oversized,
and extremely comical, bicycle horn. If all this sounds a bit weird, you’re
absolutely right, it is weird, but that’s why it’s awesome.
On Jamaican E.T., Scratch has yet again raised the conception of dub
to planes hitherto undefined. Ever the experimenter, Scratch has taken his
interstellarly bizarre performance style and superimposed it into a
celebratory soup-strata of dub heavy wordplay. Imagine not one, but three
Lee Perrys, panned left right and center, vaguely outlining, continuing and
interjecting into each other’s already meandering thoughts. The result is a
laboratory concoction that very well could pass for an audio tour of a manic
yet hysterically harmless subconscious. Jamaican E.T.s experiments
draw easy comparison to early American composer Charles Ives’ symphonic tone
poems of the early 1900s.
Ives was probably best known for documenting the phenomenological sounds of
multiplicity. A "typical" Ivesian composition could be described as such:
three or more marching bands performing simultaneously, each one fading in
and out different songs from the history of America, each in different keys,
at different tempos, with different instrumentation, complete with notated
approximation of Doppler effects, out of tune amateur players, and pitch and
rhythm mistakes.
It is in line with this type of structural thinking (or madness), whether
intended or not, that Jamaican E.T. truly succeeds and amazes.
Linearly, few of these "songs" make any real sense. Gone are any attempts
at creating lyrical narratives, and in its place are multiple layers of
Perryisms that function as combinations in an unsolvable Rubix cube.
Endless color cube variations, each delightful in their presentation, filled
with questions and even more options for action or no action. Is Perry
raising the question of "solution" as a moot aspect of the aesthetic
experience? Is the process listening the point in and of itself? Not
consumption/understanding/analysis? Is Perry inspiring us to exist within a
freedom flow of defined or undefined structures instead of the habitual
post-modernist act of forcing a given art object to exist within our
personal database of accepted musical paradigms (this is rock, this is pop,
this is bluegrass, this is techno)? Is Scratch even thinking about this
stuff at all? Like all things Scratch, no one can ever be sure. Regardless,
Jamaican E.T. is a much-needed interstellar "Get Out of Jail Free"
card, allowing each of us to "free ourselves from mental slavery" and
experience all sonics in a multi-dimensional field devoid of preconceptions
or easy categorizations.
Academic assertions aside, Jamaican E.T. is a lighthearted groovy
dance-fest goof-out. Who can resist the sheer joy of listening to multiple
mutated Lee Perry clones toasting over the delicious dub-drop of "Message
from Black Ark Studios", "Evil Brain Rejector" and the title track? Few
contemporary reggae recordings successfully traverse as much ground as
Jamaican E.T. From the soulfully positive Love Sunshine, Blue
Sky to the ominous Death Row-meets-rockers of "Hip Hop Reggae". Add to
this the infinitely infectious mid-disc soul-funk of "Congratulations" and
the uplifting sing-a-long gem "Babylon Fall". Lee "Scratch" Perry,
Rastafari Son of Jupiter, Upsetter, dub scientist beyond compare, and all
all-around Jamaican E.T. pleases, delights and mystifies at every turn.
I guess it doesn’t really matter where Lee "Scratch" Perry
originated. We should probably be thankful that he’s here now, steadfastly
collecting the good brains for his return trip to outer space.
Lee "Scratch" Perry forever, Lee "Scratch" Perry forever.

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