Sly & Robbie Meet Nils Petter Molvaer – Nordub (Okeh)


Scandinavia is not the first place that comes to mind when looking for the power of dub so when Norwegian trumpet player Nils Petter Molvaer wanted to make a dub record he went to the experts, Sly and Robbie from Jamaica. These rhythm masters were responsible for the sound of Grace Jones, Black Uhuru and Gregory Isaacs and have produced artists including Sting, Simply Red and Madonna among many others. Their sound is distinguished by the use of electronics that enhance the rhythms produced by drum and bass and it has been highly influential as a result.

Nils Petter Molvaer is a proponent of what was once called nu jazz, in other words his trumpet playing does not seek to emulate past masters of the form but breaks new ground. If any influence can be heard it would be Miles Davis in his later years. The story goes that bass player Robbie Shakespeare and drummer Sly Dunbar met up with Nils Petter Molvaer at the trumpet player’s French home and played a concert that was an inspiration to all three and resulted in a studio date together with guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronics meister Vladislav Delay.

This album is not typical of the Sly and Robbie sound of yore, it features a solid and sometimes muscular bass sound and drums with lots of reverb and sound effects that bounce in all directions but the Delay’s electronics make a distinct mark on the result even though they are usually not that high in the mix. The opener If I Gave You My Love has nice weighty bass accompanied by guitar notes that joust in a long form style with the muted and slightly distorted trumpet of Molvaer, underneath there are electronics and effects that twist and stretch the overall sound. The rhythms remain solid throughout the album but their shape and place in the mix fluctuates, How Long for instance has the most old skool dub sound, with thick, slightly vague bass and even a bit of singing over the top but when the plaintiff trumpet comes in it jolts you out of the comfort zone. Then you notice the strange sounds nibbling away at the periphery of the mix, these enrich the overall picture and the effects across the board get heavier as the piece comes to an end. Strange Bright Crowd is reminiscent of earlier Sly and Robbie work but the context is so different that you soon get distracted by the new vibe.

Was In The Blues is perhaps the most exciting track of the 11 on Nordub, it’s something akin to progressive dub with properly crunked up sounds from both guitar and horn over a monster rhythm line, the presence of all sorts of strange sounds being reminiscent of Prince Far I or Lee Perry in their heyday. European Express is a nod to the Kraftwerk ‘tune’ of a similar title, it has an equally trance like quality especially when the drums drop away toward the end. Nordub’s sound quality is limited by the heavy presence of electronics, there is a closed-in feel to the production partly because so many sounds and manipulations thereof are in use, the bass is occasionally fat and juicy however and despite the lack of acoustic ‘air’ it works reasonably well on a big system. Polished no, intriguing always.

Jason Kennedy

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