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Published: 2005/06/02
by Jeremy Sanchez

Trojan Dub Massive: Chapter One – Bill LaswellTrojan Dub Massive: Chapter Two – Bill Laswell

Trojan Records 06076-80492-2

Trojan Records 06076-80493-2

Dubbing was always meant for studio walls, even though its soppy borders have become the parameters of many live jam sessions from today's touring roots-reggae groups. It's rare to go to a reggae show and not have the band flip into a bass and percussion dub session, full of improvisation and all the unpredictability that a good studio dub-ist manages along the way.

Bassist/arranger/producer (in varying orders) Bill Laswell has made a pact with Sanctuary Records to produce six albums for them, under the roof of his new Nagual label. Trojan Dub Massive: Chapter One and Trojan Dub Massive: Chapter Two are the only strictly reggae cuts in the series. Laswell has combed the expansive Trojan Records reggae collection and pulled out the finest nuggets sprouted during reggae’s relatively short past. These aren’t just songs he happened to like, they are cream-of-the-crop classics by artists like Lee Perry and the Upsetters, Sly and Robbie, Prince Jammy, King Tubby and, the forefront melodica artist within the genre, Augustus Pablo. Far from a simple compilation, he has dubbed their tracks with a controlled and creative aggressiveness unknown since Lee "Scratch" Perry first strolled in with his genre defining Super Ape.

Keep in mind that everything contained here is already a guaranteed great. I own around 90% of the tracks either in their original album format or in guises created during other dub sessions, and I tend to agree that they're worthy of their pedestals. What demands criticism is Laswell's treatment of the music, and that also doesn't warrant any negative criticism, as far as I can tell.

Without any complaints to cite: All of the Sly and Robbie cuts are boiling ("Roots Man Dub," "Jah Jah Children Dub," especially "Negre Africa Dub" and finally 2004's "Stepping Out"), as are the Lee Perry-guided Upsetters tracks ("Lover's Skank," "Drum Rock" and the always hilarious "Washroom Skank"). "Don't Think About Me (I'm Alright) Version" is one of the few tracks to include hints of the original lyrical content, originally cut by Mafia All Stars and King Tubby. Another Tubby track, here with the Aggrovators, is "Blood Dunza Version." Bass rolls through like an avalanche and the horn section blares with melodic persistence. Tapper Zukie's "Man a Warrior" is the early powerhouse hinge-pin on the first compilation, a decaying hint of the original form, and remarkable for it. Ending off the first disc is an amorphous version of "Keep Cool Babylon," by Ras Michel and the Sons of Negus. A line from the song reads, "He come with thunder and lightning to clear the way." Of course, the line is referencing Jah, but it so fits Laswell's style that he must've realized it when placing the track at the end of the first disc. You can't hear this nyambinghi-laden dub and not want to soak into disc two.

Lee Parry's rain effects and trademarked growl green light Chapter Two with "Drum Rock," an often dubbed song that isn't overdone here. The music basically stands on its own (Perry is the dub master) and is reworked through simple fade outs/ins and revamped echo sessions. "Scientist" (Scientist) gushes more over-quoted music, but again, without suffering for its having being played out by others. Laswell's herky-jerky shots keep the heart billowing. "Java" and "Bedroom Mazurka" are both strung along by Pablo's trademarked melodica. Laswell recognizes greatness and allows the music to basically speak for itself.

Without being completely intrusive, he's re-introducing Augustus Pablo to people who may not have been blessed already. "Bedroom Mazurka Version" lilts through like a gun-heavy cowboy and is blown to utter shreds by seemingly Wu-Tang Clan inspired whistles — my top pick of the two compilations, by far. "Buckshot Dub" (Rupie Edwards) was made for dubbing. The spacious snare raps leave enough room in-between to squeeze a semi-truck full of dub trickery, and Laswell got in what he could. These tracks are all so fucking great! "A Noisy Place" (Horace Andy and the Aggrovators) meets the abrasive echo chamber, Prince Jammy's "Throne of Blood" gushes within horn entwined bass bursts and The Roots Radics Band's "The Death of Mr. Spock" is a brilliant drum and bass session with mere hints of keyboard melody. Possibly the most overdone reggae song ever is also revamped. Ras Michel and The Sons of Negus' version of "Rastaman Chant" washes through slower and slower until the sound of a washing and cavernous void, something born of the studio, covers any familiarity. The void cycles out with the growl of thunder and lightning…Laswell has spoken.

Anyone could have pulled these tracks and teased them into something audibly pleasing. Laswell has managed to dip bedrock classics into gold without destroying their essences and, with his studio crayons, demands that they be witnessed, again and again.

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