JAH WOBBLE RECORDS 27th March 2020
Confession: I have lost count of the number of times I have heard Jah Wobble play live. Last time I tried to count I got to at least ten. He’s a British stalwart, ploughing his own furrow, ever changing but always the same. Right now he’s in quite a groovy jazzy space but that will change. Starting out four decades ago in Public Image Limited, his bass defined both the first album and the classic Metal Box. Since then he has done new-age things, world music, roots music, twisted folk, dub reggae, deep space, Celtic poets, the poetry of William Blake, Japanese flavours, Chinese flavours – all sorts of things. You never quite know what you are going to get but you do know it will be individual and it will be good. Ever the genial host, I hear his laconic voice in my ear from numerous gigs.
His career includes releases at the rate of one or two a year, regular touring, collaborations and work with a range of interesting people. Here, Wobble takes his new-ish band, having honed them on his 2017 double album, The Usual Suspects, where he drilled them in all the phases of his career, then developed them through some very cool jazzy pieces, onto a combination of jazz-inflected instrumentals and some songs. I would never have chosen to hear him sing, but I do appreciate the ever-shifting interests of the man and will try anything he stamps his name on, since it will be interesting.
With the Chinese instrumental tones of Wobble’s son, Tien-Chi, opening the track, Fly Away will surprise the long-term Wobble listener. It is rare that Wobble sings and he favours instrumentals or occasionally other singers for a bit of reggae (excepting a few things, like his William Blake album). It kind of works here, as it’s a swinging little tune. Things work a bit less well with his vocals on Take My Hand. The lyrics clearly mean something personal to Wobble, but someone else would handle them better than him. The band, however….. the band! The band make up for any other deficiencies. Having been through any number of accompanying musicians, the current line up are thoroughly excellent. Marc-Layton Bennett is a veteran of previous line-ups and is a sensitive drummer and percussionist. George King’s keys carry a deeply jazzy flavour and Martin Chung’s guitar is busy exactly when it needs to be. Everything starts with the bass though, and Jah Wobble’s bass is thick and deep. Never rushing, it usually opens and provides the bedrock and melodic hub to build on. I’ve seen him build new tunes live starting on the bass and ushering in and directing the other players.
Ocean Blue Waves is one of the jazzy instrumentals he has been doing so well recently. It moves along speedily and fizzily. Safe Passage is nicely calm and spacious. Minds Float Free gets to be a tune full of Hammond-type organ sounds and then moves into a dub. Dub is a speciality of Wobble and always a good bet. Quirky Beat isn’t the most original title for the closing number but it is what it is and does what it says on the tin, the meaty bass pattern forming a platform for group extemporisation and some very tasty keyboard work.
A short album at just over half an hour, it’s a slight side-step for John. It’s definitely worth your time, more so if you know his work already. If you don’t, you could start almost anywhere but stick to real albums, not compilations, as he usually creates a unity of tone that deepens the enjoyment. It goes without saying, that if you see a live date near you, you won’t be disappointed and you’ll get to hear someone who has stuck to what he is good at for forty years and made a life from it.