By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
No fan of the hyperactive, macho ska-punk slop that's seemingly everywhere these days, I avoided Sublime's MCA debut in spite of the glowing reviews and despite my empathy for the group, on whom tragedy fell before the damn album was even released. (Surely you know by now that Sublime's frontman, guitarist/vocalist Brad Nowell, died of a heroin overdose in July.) About a month ago, I decided I should give the thing a shot. I'm glad I did: Sublime is a full-fledged, full-blown, perfectly realized masterpiece, an eclectic, far-reaching assemblage that uses ska the way Bob Wills used jazz or Jerry Lee Lewis used country -- as a stepping stone to a personal and idiosyncratic genre-spanning fusion. Throughout the set, Sublime turns on musical dimes, from the bracing hip-hop thump that kicks off "Garden Grove" to the huge chunks of fuzz guitar that rip through the scratchy reggae bop of "Same in the End." Assorted riffs and grooves are nicked from a variety of oddball sources, including Herbie Mann, Slick Rick, and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Amid this melange, Brad Nowell assays with conscience, hilarity, and passion subjects ranging from gang violence and poverty to teen pregnancy and the joys of cannabis, throwing in the kind of detail and insight that can be summoned only from first-hand experience. There is life -- gritty, raw, sweet, cruel, funny -- in every song here, but in none more so than "April 29, 1992 (Miami)," the greatest song yet to tackle the Los Angeles riots. In it, Nowell defines perfectly what the rebellion was all about: "They said it was for the black man/They said it was for the Mexican/But not for the white man/But if you look at the streets/It wasn't about Rodney King/It's about this fucked-up situation and the fucking police/It's about coming up and staying on top." It's hard to lose a voice like Nowell's, no matter what the situation.
-- John Floyd
I'm Here for You
These are hard times for those of us who cherish the days when cutting edge black music was adult music. The soul luminaries of the early Seventies made music that challenged, smashed, and created concepts of what black music was and could be by exploring the joy, pain, and contradictions of life and love from a decidedly mature point of view. Sadly, it seems too many current adult-oriented R&B artists continue to play it safe by making the same record over and over again -- contributing nothing original musically or conceptually. It's unfortunate that we've come to expect and be pleased by such mediocrity.
How happy I was, then, to be hipped to I'm Here for You, the debut album by former Sounds of Blackness frontwoman Ann Nesby. She sings the praises of faith, commitment, and overcoming adversity, and of the pursuit of both spiritual and sexual ecstasy. On "Let the Rain Fall," Nesby makes the strongest argument I've heard yet for hip-hop/gospel fusion, and despite her faith, shows her intent to divorce her man for not being responsible on "I'm Still Wearing Your Name." There is strong, strong stuff here.
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced most of this record and it's on their label, Perspective. Their effort here is a reminder of their glorious mid-Eighties golden age after they split from the Time. "I'll Do Anything for You" and especially "Thrill Me" are reminiscent of Jam and Lewis's work on Alexander O'Neal's classic 1987 album Hearsay. It's been too long since they've worked with a truly gifted vocalist like Nesby, and it's great to hear them do their thing without having to carry the entire weight of a record, a la Janet.
I know that there is a hunger out there for real R&B -- music that takes itself and the listener seriously. For every man or woman who's tried to get into Brian McKnight or Whitney Houston but knows deep down that the O'Jays and Aretha were the shit, this record was made for you.
Jazz Jamaica wants you to hoist a glass of rum and let their heady blend of ska, reggae, jazz, and mento (a type of Jamaican calypso) transport you to the lovely Caribbean. Led by ex-Jazz Warriors bassist Gary Crosby, this little big band features eight of the most interesting up-and-coming and veteran musicians in London and Kingston. But it isn't so much the solos by, say, original Skatalite Rico Rodriguez or well-respected keyboardist-melodica player Bigg Morrison or former Cymande saxophonist-flutist Bammie Rose that get Jazz Jamaica over; it's the spirit evidenced by the band as a whole. The brass and woodwind front line handles melodies with fetching behind-the-beat exhilaration, and the syncopated ebb-and-flow of the rhythm section has irresistible power. In these grooves are small alterations of detail, largely attributable to percussionist Tony Uter and young bebop/swing guitarist Alan Weekes. Jazz Jamaica pushes our pleasure points over and over, playing material that includes Skatalites numbers "Bridge View" and "Green Island" as well as sunny originals and Jamaica-cized jazz evergreens such as "Skaravan (Caravan)" and "Barbados."