Weekly Wire
Gambit Weekly Irie Vacation

By Geraldine Wyckoff

The sun shone bright on this year's Reggae Riddums festival -- both literally and figuratively. There were no thunderstorms threatening performances at the two-day celebration. Nor were moods grayed by the cancellation of any of the festival's headliners, a problem that had plagued the festival in the past. Perhaps most surprising -- especially for a reggae festival -- was that artists played at their scheduled times. Set changes were quick; the music flowed.

The Reggae Riddums Festival, an 11-year tradition, has always been fun, even though it's sometimes frustrating. It was great to see that the event's problematic aspects were dealt with this year. Even the heat of June could be conquered by simply stepping into the "Rain Room," a tent with a refreshing fine mist spray. For just a buck, you could go in as often as you wanted throughout the day. Many people commented that Jazz Fest should include a larger version of the watery tent at the Fair Grounds.

The Reggae Cowboys put on a solid show that lived up to expectations set by the fine album Tell the Truth. Leader Stone Ranger's guitar work was impressive, particularly on his imaginative solos. He doesn't play just for the sake of playing, as too many guitar wizards tend to do. He makes a musical statement each time out. Fellow guitarist Click Masta Sync added another aspect to the performance by cleverly "toasting" (reggae rapping) between tunes. Good stuff.

Sunday's highlight was, naturally, the closing act, Black Uhuru. The band's strength is derived from wonderful harmonies on a collection of now-classic reggae hits. because its performance began on time, the festival ended while the sun was still shining.

I hope that those who have lost faith in the Reggae Riddums Festival will return and give it another try. More support is necessary and, considering this year's improvements, deserved. Beyond the music, the choice and quality of the food has always been very good. And through the years, I've always relished the vibes at the reggae festival: everyone is so laid-back. It would be difficult to imagine June in New Orleans without Reggae Riddums and the "irie" feeling that is its aura.

Sound Check
ReBirth Brass Band
We Come to Party (Shanachie)

What do people want from a recording of the ReBirth Brass Band (or any brass band)? They want the sound of the streets, the feel of the band rolling in a second line. And they want it live -- all the sweat, joy and celebration without a sterile or confined studio sound.

On We Come to Party, ReBirth delivers just that -- honest music from the heart of an energized ensemble. Just like on the streets, the album begins with the call of Philip Frazier's tuba, used to gather the musicians and the crowd, alerting them that the parade is about to start. After a short intro, ReBirth works on an album rich with original material, tunes already familiar to regulars at social aid and pleasure club parades. The song list includes the spirited "Fire" and what might be considered the group's theme song, "Roll With It." In keeping with the "on the street" feel, it was a smart move to let many of the tunes run long (some last nine minutes). This gives the musicians lots of room to stretch out. And though the congas of Michael Ward are added to the mix on the CD, an aspect that wouldn't be heard at a second line, they feel right and are reminiscent of the rhythms supplied by cowbells and triangles.

Great vamping -- with those horns pushing the rhythm -- is ReBirth's strength. It works particularly well when saxophonist John "Prince" Gilbert solos over the top. He gives modern jazz tones to the funky "Roll With It."

ReBirth knows about the importance of dynamics, of keeping the crowd with them by changing the mood and tonalities. The group's signature chant, "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh" on "U Been Watchin' Me" is classic in this respect. As they usually do during a performance, the players also include a traditional number, "Glory Glory/Jesus on the Mainline," on the album. The vocal harmonies here should have been given the same attention as the instrumental work.

Often toward the end of a second line, when things may get a bit wild, ReBirth soothes the crowd with its version of Marvin Gaye's hit "Let's Get It On." It sways quietly, as Prince's sax "sings" the lyrics with simple accompaniment of Frazier's tuba and the drums. The group leaves us with the mellow song, fulfilled once again as its instruments and vocals fade out. The party's over after another great day.

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