This album keeps coming on top when browsing through my collection to find some records to listen to in the weekend. The unique blend of spaced out Jazz on a foundation of Reggae keeps me coming back for more. Headley “Deadly” Bennet is a graduate of the famous Alpha Cottage School better known as Alpha Boys School. Originally the school was founded as last resort for troublesome youth in Jamaica. This is where they could learn some valuable trades to eventually take part in society. One of the programs they offered young men was aimed at the then up and coming music business. Students were given an instrument to master next to a varying extent of reading and writing music. The school had an active school band where classmates learned to play as an ensemble which came to good use as the music industry in Jamaica was about to take flight. Once completed most graduates found work at one of the premiere studios of Jamaica, Studio One. These graduates were to lay down the foundation of what we consider Reggae music today. The riddims created during this period are still among the most used and re-used riddims we know today.
It took Headly 35 years after graduating from Alpha Boys School to release his debut album. The Jamaican music industry has always been focused on single releases instead of the album format. Most musicians were part of one or multiple session bands who’s members frequently changed. It took some time before the musicians were being credited as the inventors of these infectious riddims shaking the island. Often the owner of the label took credit for everything created on his label including most of the money made by selling their music. This changed when it became fashion to add the bare instrumental track on the B side of a single. These were often credited to the band names such as The Skatalites and Soul Vendors. This gave musicians the opportunity to get their name out and eventually establish themselves without the label taking all the credit. In conjunction with this, prominent players and bands were able to release albums credited to the musician(s) as headline artist. Not all musicians were able to do this and unlike many of his contemporaries, Headly remained earning a living as a session player or part of a live band. Playing in multiple bands, it was Prince Far I’s backing band The Arabs that brought Headly to the UK in the late 70’s. It was there that Headly met members of Creation Rebel and became part in the movement orchestrated by Adrian Sherwood. After such a long career with no album to his name, Adrian felt it was time to make an album that celebrated Headly “Deadly” Bennet. If you are not familiar with the works of Adrian Sherwood there are lots of treats for you yet to be discovered. He evolved an unique sound when it comes to production. Inspired by the dub masters from the past, he took Dub into a new direction. Applying the Dub techniques to other forms of electronic dance music and so inspired a whole new generation.
The album opens with “35 Years From Alpha”. The late great Style Scott sets off with a steady drumbeat while another reggae veteran Rico Rodriguez releases some flares of his trombone. After a few bars of introduction the song kicks up a notch. Rico and Headley exchange in letting their brass instrument burst into an exciting mix on top of a tight sparse rhythm all the while being supported by keyboard with splashes of dub treatment. On “The Danger” we are met by Bim Sherman’s dreamy voice who next to a successful solo career is also an longtime member of the Reggae supergroup Singers and Players. This percussion driven song together with the heavy rhythm creates a fertile ground for Headly to let his alto-sax roam freely. We are taken afloat by Headly on “Head Charge” with its tribal sounds as the song moves gently atop a bouncy rhythm. The drums are placed in the background of the mix to accentuate the lines of melody either by Headly’s saxophone or the keyboard. On “Without A Love Like Yours” which is a reinterpretation of “Devious Woman” we are reunited with the voice of Bim Sherman. Headly accentuates Bim’s soft spoken words too hauntingly effect. All of the tracks on the album are taken from existing rhythm tracks recorded the previous years and are re-interpreted by Headly along with a host of friends.
The flipside opens with “Little Dove” which features a deep hypnotic rhythm with a heavy bass. Short burst of sax support the rhythm section alternated with longer lines of melody. Bim Sherman voice is being deconstructed halfway during the song as it enters the mix and echo’s into space. “Two From Alpha” instantly kicks in with a pervasive rhythm full of thundering drum rolls. A vortex of sound effects and some wicked skills behind the mixing board gives this song a deep spacious backdrop to contrast the high pitched brass. The title song refers to Headley and Rico as both are former students of Alpha Boys School. The next song is a familiar one for reggae fans as they take on “Satta Massagana” and mold it into “Another Satta”. Headly takes us along on one of the most enduring melodies in reggae history staying true the original but with enough touches of his own to make it stand-out. The last song “Headly’s Medley” takes us back to the days when Studio One dictated the Reggae charts. The lush melody is coupled with a dancehall rhythm which propels it into the future.
This is a highly unique album even in the catalogue of On-U Sound which is full of genre defying music. Best I can give you is spaced out Jazz on a foundation of Reggae is given a serious dub treatment with just a hint of tribal sounds. There is nothing quite like it.
I’ve you like the overall vibe of the album I can highly recommend checking out Creation Rebel, New Age Steppers, African Head Charge and Singer and Players who all recorded for the On-U Sound label. Or check out heavy rhythms, hypnotic vibes and Latin exotica for Lee Perry’s latest album with Adrian Sherwood. All differ in direction but ultimately share that distinct On-U Sound DNA throughout the music.
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