I Got Riddim
A Rasta once described dub to me as “the reggae wing of jazz.” That should’ve hit me before — how dub’s spacy cut-ups are mainly instrumental; how its mixes leap from the unrepeatable moment; how its first Jah-makin’ session players were jazz disciples.
Most every other form has sprouted dub feathers sometime, too. The Clash and Bad Brains dubbed up punk and metal. Massive Attack dubbed hip-hop (which itself descended from Kingston toasting). No Doubt dubbed pop. It’s a gene on the loose, mutating like madd worldwiddde.
Take Dr. Israel and Heavyweight Dub Champion, who crash the Knitting Factory this week. In 1999, evangelists were going all scriptural about Israel’s heavy beats and genre blends, like the nasty way he looped Black Sabbath. Then the Brooklyner’s label support evaporated and he went underground, not emerging with widely visible ore till the current Patterns of War. And he’s shooting for crossover, sistah, stocking the disc with easy-bump reggae songsmanship and adding the lead voices of not 1 but 2-2-2 sex-eye womens to his own attractive country-bwai tenor — Shaggy, beware. Dub still flaring, but on the back burner.
More entrancing is Heavyweight, a collective of politicized stoners from Boulder who packed a 70-page bible/babble manifesto into the 2002 CD Survival Guide for the End of Time. (If these souljahs and the high-flying metal outfit Cephalic Carnage are any indication, they got some freaky weed in Colorado.) The main HDC aesthetic is a cooled-out groove, textured to support whatever synth fizzle, wandering sax or castaway voice might drift in and out of the dim and cloudy frame. Their genius is the great virtue of ’70s dub: never overdoing it.
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Before and After Scientist
Heavyweight Dub Champion are named after a 1980 album by Jamaican dub pioneer Scientist. So who’da thunk that Scientist, who twisted knobs alongside King Tubby himself, would commit the very sin of clutter that HDC so adroitly avoid? His new Dub 911 makes you suspect he’s switched mental enhancements to something clickier, as strings, guitar twiddles and vocal interruptions crowd each other out like shoppers at an Xmas blowout. Easy for old fucks like me to whine, as Scientist is probably just recognizing that the average attention span has slipped from four seconds to one. For pure fun and righteous skank, though, I’ll take the new CD by Future Pigeon, his old pals from Echo Park’s Dub Club.
Or: You know how sometimes you start an album, and you can’t goddamn turn it off? That befell me with the new Bhang Ragga, by the Bay Area dubmaster Kush Arora (www.kusharora.com). While the Indian element breathes magic, it’s no more than a minor current in a surging, slow-whirling weatherscape of invention that satisfies every physical and intellectual requirement. Got small change and can’t decide between that and the recent reissue of Augustus Pablo’s subtly brilliant King David’s Melody? Flip a coin.?
Dr. Israel and Heavyweight Dub Champion play the Knitting Factory on Monday, March 20. To read a 2003 Greg Burk cover story on dub, visit www.laweekly.com/features/2264/dub.