By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
NINEY THE OBSERVER Microphone Attack, 1974–1978 (Blood and Fire)
Coupled with the boasting and babbling of whichever toaster was at the mic, ’70s dub sailed north from Jamaica, entered the U.S. at the Bronx and mutated into rap, the dominant music of our era. Winston “Niney” Holness may not have invented the art form, but along with Lee Perry, King Tubby and others, he was there at the source.
Okay, history lesson’s over. Fact is, these tracks are to current cut-and-paste, off-the-hard-drive methodology what Robert Johnson was to a Marshall stack 30 years ago. Although it was studio technology that made Niney’s great tracks with Dennis Brown easily transferable into the chassis of U-Roy’s phenomenal “Train From the West,” one’s jaw drops at the crudity of the sound effects: the smashing-of-the-plate reverb for that “thunder and lightning” effect, the abrupt shift from echo drench into bone dry that makes the horn parts feel like hard jabs, the sped-up repeats for the “fun house” vocal effect. All were done by hand, which is why the U-Roy cut that opens the disc is such a hoot — you can’t even tell whether the track has faded out or ended.
Pre-sampling era that it was, the musicians played snippets of tunes instead of just lifting them; bits of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and the Drifters’ “On Broadway” (transmogrified into “Fresh and Clean” here by I-Roy) were underpinnings, as was the Mighty Diamonds’ reggae classic “Right Time” used by Big Youth on “Four Sevens.” Not so much rapping as scat singing, Youth, Dillinger and I-Roy made good use of Niney’s cleaner bottom; by 1974, the scratchy and overdriven 4-track sound of ska/bluebeat, having evolved into slick soul, was perfect for their invocations.
It’s loud and organic and lovely and mean and tender, all dunked in a mixmaster and shot out in shotgun blasts of monstrous sound and fury. Today’s dancehall mixers, despite their aural blitzkriegs, sound tame compared to these JA O.G.s. (Johnny Angel)
CHANO POZO El Tambor de Cuba (Tumbao)
Eating a raw-octopus-and-cucumber salad at a Hollywood sushi house, Venezuelan percussionist Rudy Regalado suddenly decides to teach me how to play a basic timbales beat. He pounds the counter and sings on top of the rhythm, mimicking the violent riffs of a brass section. The song is “Manteca,” the Latin-jazz classic composed by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, Dizzy Gillespie and arranger Walter Gilbert Fuller. Regalado will remember Pozo once again before leaving the restaurant. “Blen, blen, blen,” he sings while bidding me goodbye. Just like every performer of Afro-Cuban music before and after him, Regalado carries within him the constant memory of Pozo, the Cuban conguero who dazzled New York in the late ’40s with his African-folklore-based percussion before being murdered in 1948.
Pozo, who between 1939 and 1948 wrote 41 tunes, is celebrated in the lavish box set El Tambor de Cuba. Tropical-music aficionados will recognize most of the material in these three discs, as well as the names of its famous interpreters: Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Miguelito Valdés with the Orquesta Casino de la Playa, Tito Gómez and, of course, Gillespie with Pozo himself. Though the sound quality of the original recordings is rough at times, the warmth emanating from these pioneering sessions is undeniable. Together with Gillespie, Machito and Mario Bauzá, Pozo invented an irresistible new combination of American jazz and Cuban dance formats that still fuels Latin America’s tropical music.
On November 22, 1948, someone stole two congas from Pozo’s dressing room in North Carolina while he was on tour with Gillespie. He returned to New York, bought 25 joints and, unhappy with the quality, beat up the dealer, who returned and shot him seven times. A few minutes before, Pozo had been dancing with a beautiful waitress to a recording of “Manteca.” His death came as no surprise in Cuba. Though one of Shangó’s priests had warned him that he should be initiated into Santería before leaving the island, Pozo refused. He died 24 hours before December 4, the day when the spirit of Santa Bárbara, the equivalent of Afro-Cuba’s Shangó, is celebrated. (Ernesto Lechner)
VARIOUS ARTISTS Alpha Motherfuckers: A Tribute to Turbonegro (Hopeless)
Tribute alert: Calling all denim demons and suburban Antichrists! A mere rock band Turbonegro was not. Raw, funny as fuck and fronted by the animistic, incubustic Hank Herzog van Helvete, Turbonegro swallowed everything loud and good and true that had come before, added some snotty Norse mojo, and kicked ass all through the ’90s. Immortal in Europe and larger than life everywhere else, they tossed out anthems of erections and pizza, sailors and sodomy, triumph and destruction. The melodic intuition of guitarist Happy Tom and the crash-bam capabilities of Pal Pot and Rune Rebellion brought to mind the Stooges, Cheap Trick and Judas Priest. The music was revelatory and visceral. The lyrics were nihilistic, brilliant and obscene. Turbonegro conquered, and after five albums (Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives, Never Is Forever, Ass Cobra, Apocalypse Dudes and Darkness Forever) they vanished.