06 June 2009

A Splendid Time

In the legacy of Jamaican music, certain bands arose as studio rhythm sections of renown, providing the musical landscape for untold dozens of vocalists... in the fashion of Motown's Funk Brothers, and STAX Records' Booker T. & The M.G.s. Names like the Skatalites, Roots Radics, Sly & Robbie, and even Bob Marley's Wailers Band scored the musical underpinnings for phenomenal music, maybe not so apparent to most Americans, but to the world.

From this tradition comes Easy Star All-Stars, formed on our own shores in urban-exotic NYC... the "House Band" of Easy Star Records. For over ten years this venerable unit has backed many of the kingpins of reggae music in their newer solo offerings, and in remarkable tribute albums in the past few years... notably, re-workings of Pink Floyd (Dub Side Of The Moon), Radiohead (Radiodread), and most recently, the Beatles (Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band). In the packed, humid environment of the IS Venue in Charlottesville, VA., an adoring public got to find out just how remarkable is their sound, in this particular guise.

The logistics of including all off of these star vocalists in a touring band being unrealistic, the Easy Star All Stars relied on their own prodigious talents (and those of Kirsty Rock of Trumystic, the openers), both vocally and musically, in presenting original and very familiar music. The ambitious "tribute" undertakings of the Easy Star Records vanguard (Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith and now-local Lem Oppenheimer) might cause the unschooled to think that there were big musical shoes to fill, with the adaptation to reggae. But, if crowd reaction is any indication, the call-and-response dispelled that notion, Friday night.

And, though the heart of a reggae band is it's rhythm unit, it's the brass section that punctuates this amazing performance (Jenny Hill, hailing from the pinnacle of roots brass sections, Burning Spear's Burning Brass, and Buford O'Sullivan of 3G Ska stalwarts, the Scofflaws). From the familiar "English" horn figures from Sergeant Pepper, to classic reggae riffs, to gusty blues blasts... they Brought It Home.

In short, this was not just a "show"... but, an Event.

As fortunate as was Charlottesville to benefit from this performance, who's getting the best bargain from the Easy Star All Stars? The upcoming audiences of England's Glastonbury Festival: Three nights... three stages... each night focusing on each of those "tribute" albums.

Lucky Brits.

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