Friday, April 16, 2010

"The Welcome Surprise": A Review of Judgement Time by Chezidek

Although I’m a pretty studious and technically observant person, I do have to admit that I absolutely LOVE surprises and love them in almost any form. Musically speaking, however, there’re seemingly fewer and fewer opportunities for a nice shock, especially given as much research that I do on a daily basis, so what I tend to do is to appreciate surprises in very very small and minute forms. Of course I can talk about all of the wonderful new artists, who arrive and do so with wonderful music, but with the simple progression of time, such a thing is completely expected - The roles have already been written, it’s just a matter of casting for them. Similarly, I could speak on artists who may not be so very new, but are relatively unknown and offer surprises via HUGE albums which are of such a quality that you cannot ignore them - But again, that’s becoming so common as Reggae music spreads further throughout the world, that it isn’t really a matter of IF it is going to happen at all, but WHEN and with WHOM. So oddly enough, my most fulfilling source of revelation tends to come from artists with whom I far more familiar, and although I shouldn’t be too surprised perhaps, when you take an artist who is well established as a talent and they go above and beyond what I expect, or what I’m accustomed to, the results are almost ALWAYS magical. Just earlier this young year, Ras Iba, a veteran chanter from out of St. Croix released what is easily one of the finest albums of 2010 thus far, Matsahyel. Again, given Iba’s well solid history, maybe I shouldn’t be as surprised as I now am, but it was shocking to say the least and in such a BEAUTIFUL way. Well, in sticking with 2010, there’s now someone else to add to that list and given how familiar I am with this artist and for how long I’ve been trumpeting of his class, I feel pretty silly for being surprised, but in a good way. Chezidek is an artist who has shown himself capable, in his own most special way given his voice, of being one of the very most CONSISTENT of artists, particularly on the Jamaican scene and his consistency has also led to arguably the greatest level of exposure his career has seen to this point. One could rather easily make the case now that he is one of the most in demand names in Jamaican Roots Reggae at this point and not have to go too far in defending it. I don’t know how many albums that he’s had (although I’m going to try to count them in a second) and I’ve heard legitimately GREAT music from him in the past. So, when I realized that he was bringing forth a new and I became educated on it, I had a very good feeling that this would be a strong album from Chezidek. . . But I was wrong.

It’s much better than I thought. The last time we heard from Chezidek on an album would have been on last year’s decent piece, the Sly & Robbie produced I Grade album. That album came via Frenchie label, Tabou 1 Records, and apparently Chezidek is still well enjoying European cooking as he ventures there again, this time to The Netherlands, to link with not one, but two of the strong young Reggae labels from the country, JahSolidRock and Not Easy At All Productions. If you’ve been reading my work for a longer bit of time, then you may very well remember the former from having laid down the work for Dutch chanter ( I believe of Surinamese heritage) Benaïssa’s debut album, the pretty good Tables Turn. I previously had no knowledge of Not Easy At All (although they did release Wild Life‘s album Too Tuff, which I knew about), but in doing research on them, I learned that they too had been quite active and had formed a partnership of sorts to release the sort of big time and high profile albums with which we find ourselves dealing with today, Chezidek’s new (and by my count,, his eighth) studio album, Judgement Time. This album seemed so much to just kind of pop up out of nowhere, but at the very second when I found out that it would be on its way and in the not too distant future, I IMMEDIATELY looked it up and saw that the album had been in development for quite awhile (as you might imagine with two different record labels coming together behind it) and there had already been music from it released to the masses which was actually doing fairly well also. As for the actual music itself, what little bit I could hear (which consisted of hearing two tunes) was DEFINITELY impressive. Chezidek, with his well discussed very different voice, is an artist who still seems to excel on so many setups that it’s almost difficult to screw up in my opinion and save for the kind of screwy ‘back-story’ behind the Herbalist album, the only time I’ve stumbled across one of his albums that I sincerely didn’t enjoy was the still harshly cryptic and downright MYSTERIOUS Rising Sun from several years ago. On top of that, Chezidek did have an album in his catalogue, his debut Harvest Time, which I genuinely regard as a GREAT album and another in Inna Di Road, which wasn’t too far from such a label and if I recall correctly was, critically, his most well regarded piece to date by so many (with myself still championing the beauty of his debut, even to this very day). So with all of that being said, what exactly about Judgement Time was so surprising? The fact that it seemingly embodied what I was almost sure going to be, again, a very nice album from Chezidek and within just the couple of tunes that I had heard before getting my hands on it, it saw “very nice” and just kept going until ending where it is now in terms of quality and I’m still trying to register exactly where that is (and I’ll most certainly have it figured out by the end of this review). It isn’t very nice at all, it’s in the ‘excellent’ to ‘great’ range and frankly I just don’t know that I was expecting such a release right now from one of my favourites at this point. Well, ready or not, it’s here anyway and Judgement Time is BEAUTIFUL.

I’m going to speak about this specifically later, however, what I will say is that, much like the Harvest Time album, there’re actually eleven vocal tracks on this album. The very nice ‘twist’ which happens with the album is a testament to the reportedly painstakingly setup which was orchestrated by Not Easy At All, in regards to the instrumentation, because as a whole, this thing sounds EXCELLENT and just as far as the compositions, it’s probably the most impressive set of Chezidek’s to date. Also very impressive is the tune ‘Ganja Tree’, which begins (ST. ANN NATIVE!) Chezidek’s new album from JahSolidRock and Not Easy At All Productions, Judgement Time. Chezidek has definitely become quite the ganja tune ACE, with tunes like ‘Leave The Trees’ and ‘Herbalist’ thus far, and I’m going to go ahead and say that this tune is on that same level, largely because of its BIG lyrics.

“If a man was going to commit a crime and burn a spliff same time, him nah go bodda dweet. Put on a pot, go look some food and go eat! The tree pretty and ah glisten and ah shine, positive thoughts I want in my mind. So mi waan the bag of weed. Chalice haffi light before the news read.”

And it sounds so nice also, musically speaking and of course on the vocals. The tune easily creeps to the top pieces on the album, but I suspect that’ll be something I’ll be saying quite often here. I’ll most certainly say it about the even stronger 'Live & Learn' tune which is up next. This song, for me, was really just about (as the title might suggest) the passage of time and gaining life experience. Chezidek speaks on several topics and generally does so with more of a gradual approach which would suggest more of a ‘in it for the long haul’ type of ideology, rather than an immediate one. This tune is absolutely powerful and were I going to break this one down even further (and someday I might), it would definitely be instrumental in comprehending the true ‘weight’ of Judgement Time. And then there’s the delightful On The Move’ (I tune I had actually heard before, but hadn't made the connection) which is one of the most sonically pleasing tunes on the entire album (and in this case, that’s definitely saying a lot) and it’s another of the best and most well written selections here as well. With this tune, it’s kind of a sad type of vibes as Chezidek sings about this kind of never-ending ‘hustle’ that impoverished people have to place themselves in just to make it from day to day. I think, however, rather paradoxically that too many times such a hustle is kind of looked up to for some reason (I think just because so many people do it) and Chezidek doesn’t glorify it at all, he just sings so flatly about it and speaks about the internal hardships of it as well. The tune is VERY interesting and such a vast selection as well, certain to catch the most observant of listeners as being very near great (because it is). And speaking of “GREAT”, you’ll notice that the legendary producer/engineer/arranger/musician/songwriter Dean ‘Cannon’ Fraser appears with his typically brilliant saxophone throughout which sends this tune to even higher heights, as if it needed it.

When you get into the actual body of Judgement Time, it almost becomes overwhelming at times, with just how straight forward and MIGHTY some of this material is. To my opinion, the mightiest of them all is the downright HALTING (the thing literally makes you STOP) previous single ’Walk With Jah’ from the also recently released Collie Weed riddim. I heard just a bit of the tune on a mix for the riddim and just that little spot well impressed me and did so enough that I basically knew it would be a great song, but just like the album itself, it was surprising hearing the full piece, again, it was better than I supposed it would be. It just sounds EXCELLENT first of all, and on top of that it comes in with such a powerfully inspirational message for the masses which Chezidek doesn’t even really lend to more of a ‘communal’ type of vibes, but he personalizes it to such an extent that if you cant place yourself within those vibes, something is wrong . . . With you. HUGE HUGE tune. A couple of tunes on from ‘Walk With Jah’ was the most wonderful familiar of vibes that I probably found altogether on the album, ’In My Heart’. The tune utilizes a riddim with which hopefully you’re familiar with by this time because it backs the tune ‘Seven Miles’ by Naptali and Luciano from the former’s epic debut album Long Journey. Chezidek uses the riddim to deliver the dominant love song for Judgement Time and while this style certainly isn’t amongst what he does the best, songs like this LOVELY gem may go to changing that for the future. And speaking of familiar, you might also recognize the aforementioned Benaïssa, who guests on the actual tune named ’Jahsolidrock’. Of course, the song serves as a kind of signature tune for the label and it’s somewhat gimmicky in that respect, but what it kind of does is ‘shows off’ the label’s slogan (and it was the first time I heard of it) - ‘Music From The Highest Region’. Thankfully the song itself is very good (so it’s a good gimmick at least), as said slogan definitely applies to more than the label (and the label’s name itself kind of has more than one meaning as well) and it definitely strengthens the tune. I might also be able to call ‘Burning Fire’ somewhat familiar as well because that riddim sounds like something which I’m almost sure that I know from somewhere. Regardless of the origins of its riddim, however, this tune is another top notch piece, without a doubt.

There’s a tune here, by the name of ’Chant Dem’, which I’m almost sure is going to get ‘lost in the shuffle’ on Judgement Time and I think that would be very unfortunate because the tune is EXCELLENT. It finds Chezidek chanting down corruption everywhere it may exist and doing so with a very big and colourful and vibrant sound to it that you should definitely donate a few spins to the tune. And you should give a similar type of attention (if not even more) to the final three tunes on the album as well. ’Uplift Yourself’ is a tune which kind of categorizes itself, but you wouldn’t know that the tune is so delightful just by going from the title, or at least not as pleasant as it is. It’s always a very nice thing when an artist can educate and entertain at the same time. The anti-violence/anti-system ’Wartankers’ almost sounds out of place coming after ‘Uplift Yourself’, because it slows things down so much, but in order to get across this message, perhaps a necessary shift and a very welcome one still (because the riddim here is excellent). Definitely focus on the lyrics of the tune, on that scale it’s one of the strongest on the entire album and may be so in general as well. It doesn’t, however, reach to the HEIGHTS of the tune which it precedes, the album’s closer, the nearly MASSIVE ’Jah Love’. I don’t know if I was just in a crazy mood, but the first time I vibed this tune it literally made me tear up a bit and now, a few days on, it’s still GORGEOUS! And . . . Yeah. For the sake of finishing this review, I’m going to have it turn it off. The tune is amazing and it speaks on humility and comfort and just feeling good as one seeks the shelter of His Imperial Majesty. LOVELY!

And now to the aforementioned “nice twist” on Judgement Time. There’re seventeen tracks on the album, but only eleven vocal tracks. The six remaining pieces are actually versions for six of the songs - ‘Ganja Tree’, ‘Live & Learn’, ‘On The Move’, ‘Walk With Jah’, (thankfully) ‘In My Heart’ and ‘Burning Fire’. As I said, the music on the album is top notch throughout, so this is a WONDERFUL idea in my opinion. You can call them versions or dubs (they do have dub elements to them at times with the echoes and such), but I’d like to just think of them more as extended parts to the songs. On my (digital) version, I hardly even notice where the vocal tune ends and the riddim track begins and that’s just COOL! My only critique of that is that . . . Well they could’ve did the other five tunes (especially ‘Jah Love’) and it would’ve been so nice.

Overall, this one is a WINNER, no questions about it. I remarked often about just how surprised I was when I actually got into listening to Judgement Time and definitely I still hold to it. The album is CLEARLY in my opinion some of Chezidek’s best work to date and in my opinion I think that it’s, AT WORST, his second best release after Harvest Time (yes, better than Inna Di Road by the slightest of margins). And it’s an album like this and like his debut which might just kind of fade away into the background as being, ostensibly, an unremarkable project, but when you get into it, you see it's certainly much more than that. The vibes are so high on this album that I have absolutely no reservations in recommending it for new fans of the artist and the genre and likewise older fans of both or either as well (you’ll absolutely love this album). And I also like the concept behind it with the two labels coming together to do the work on an even higher level (and yes, I’m already imagining the possibilities and apparently there’s an Earl 16 album in there as well). Judgement Time is a world class release and it’ll probably catch more than a few others by surprise as well. As for me, however, the only remaining surprise is if this one isn’t in contention amongst the finest Reggae albums of the year for 2010 in December. If it isn’t, I’ll be absolutely shocked.

Rated 4.99999/5
JahSolidRock/Not Easy At All Productions
2010



{album releases on April 23rd, worldwide}

8 comments:

  1. When is the album available??

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  2. I was gonna ask the same thing... lookin' forward to getting this album. Respect.

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  3. Just listened to the collie weed mix on youtube, on the jahsolidrock channel.. Man.. What agreat tune.. Wondering how the rest of Papa Chezi's album will sound like...

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  4. It is a very strong album my friend.

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  5. I was blown away by this album. I have his previous album and wasn't that impressed but this one is superb!

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  6. one of my favorites....love this album

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