Friday, November 21, 2014

"Redemption" by Jah Bless!

"Redemption" by Jah Bless [Zion High Productions]
For good ideas. From ever since the Zion I Kings collective began their magnificent run, dating back a few years now, I thought that given some of the amazing compositions they were churning out that it would be an excellent thought if they were ever to do an entirely instrumental set. This could have been an instrumental of a previously released vocal album, a Dub album or a set which featured on particular player of instrument. I didn't care! Anything would have sufficed! They did give us glimpses of this throughout the years with pieces featuring the likes of, of course, Tuff Lion and someone else as well. That individual, saxophone ace Jah Bless, apparently made a big impression on the ZIK and Zion High Productions especially as Jah Bless and ZHP now team up for an album which continues the fine run of both ZHP and the ZIK and, hopefully, is the first of many of its kind, "Redemption". Today I thought that we'd take a closer look at the album and give a nice look at a very colourful and unique album which you are sure to enjoy, "Redemption" by Jah Bless. 

{Note: …okay so I figured out that it is a lot easier to write a review for an instrumental album in a track-by-track style}

1. 'Highway To Zion'

The afore-alluded to opener of "Redemption", 'Highway To Zion', is a song which you should know quite well as it previously appeared on Zion High Productions' MAMMOTH compilation from 2012, "Jah Golden Throne" (which does not at all seem nearly as old as the two and half years that it really is) (time FLIES!). On that album, where it was the closer, it was a sublime touch to a set which didn't need much in the way of help but certainly was a better release for it is presence. Here, as you can see, it is featured prominently and with good reason. The first thought in listening to 'Highway To Zion' is in regards to just how damn SMOOTH the piece is (there are no bumps on the highway to Zion) but as you listen to it more and more it does slightly intensify to my opinion. Though you'll find flashier material here, this one does have more than it seems on the surface, initially so give it a moment. It is also, clearly, one of the best songs on the album and the single track which does feature the handiwork of the Tuff Lion.

2. 'Militant Swing'

'Militant Swing' which comes next has more of a dusty and 'dubby' of feel to it but something which it most certainly does share with its predecessor (and most of the better songs on "Redemption") is just how expansive it becomes with the more attention that you give to it. It is complicated from the first listen but it becomes even more so as it goes about and, I should also mention how, whether by design and plan or not, you definitely feel a MARCH to this song, particularly at its 'chorus'. Credit hoes to a Jarritt Shield and Don Hylor Jr. who play the trumpet and trombone on the track, respectively, helping to make for a very solid sound. Oh and I LOVE the way 'Militant Swing' ends. 

3. 'Lightning and Thunder'

I was really looking forward to hearing 'Lightning and Thunder' because, from its title, I was well expecting something with a bit more of an attitude and some bite and that is what it turned out to be though, again, in a more subtle way. 'Lightning and Thunder' also is a little freer than the first two songs and you'll hear Jah Bless DANCING his way through much of the composition, making for what is definitely one of the most memorable and lasting moments here. 

4. 'Heartbeat Horns'

The world needs love and 'Heartbeat Horns' goes about doing its part in effusing enjoyment through the earth with what is sure to be one of the favourites from "Redemption". You may recognize this track from the aforementioned "Jah Golden Throne" album where it backed Jahdan Blakkamoore (who could really be nice to us all by making a new album next year) on 'World Needs Love' and it returns here for Jah Bless and company to thrill on as well. A large part of that 'company' includes Dean Fishback who hypnotizes and spellbinds on the piano and it is also one of the songs on the album featuring Tippy I from I Grade Records (biggup I Grade) on an instrument, the clavinet, and if I knew exactly what a clavinet was, I'd love to give him a bigger credit for that but I am sure that he does a good job on it. This is a piece which will definitely get you moving and there's nothing wrong with that. 

5. 'Dance With My Father'

'Dance With My Father' is actually a remake of an old Luther Vandross song and Jah Bless doesn't take it alone as also featured on vocals is a favourite of Zion High Productions, Chet Samuel. This is a Reggaefied remake, but I also hear a great deal of Jazz here and I REALLY like what happens on 'Dance With My Father' around the four minute moment when it gets a bit more relaxed and loose and a lot of different things begin to happen and you can just envision how much fun they must have had in the studio creating it. 

6. 'Jah Children Must Play'

I don't imagine that this is the type of tune which is going to steer a significant amount of attention paid to "Redemption" in its direction and that's too bad really because 'Jah Children Must Play' is FANTASTIC. After, thankfully, escaping what I thought was the possibility that we might have to actually hear the children playing throughout the entire song (you were thinking it too when you first heard it), it absolutely blossomed! I hear a lot of MOVEMENT on this song and that is the case both at its nascence as well as when it picks up considerably and it is a very nice sound to be able to 'play'. I made the connection that at its beginning you're kind of walking along and, later, you start to run. You may not have a specific destination, or you might, but you're running for the last minute of 'Jah Children Must Play' and, to my opinion, you're taking it to the level of being the second best song on this album. BOOM! 

7. 'Armageddon'

The only song which actually betters 'Jah Children Must Play' to my opinion is the one which chases it on the album, 'Armageddon'. TEARS! This piece well carries the ammunition and the bite and the intensity I was looking for and it drags it straight to the top. Even when things settle down, they do so in a way which well maintains the initial burst of energy on the song and that same sound does come back and come back and come back! Something else which also stands out besides the strength of the song is its mood. Around a minute and a half in, it gives you this sublime break… and then it BUILDS you right back up for another pinnacle [WHAT!] [BOOM!]. 'Armageddon' features the venerable Dean Pond on drums and Tippy I on pretty much everything else and is the single best stop on "Redemption".

8. 'Be Strong'

The much more relaxed and thoroughly sublime 'Be Strong' features another very familiar vibe (of course I can't identify where I know it from but I almost certain that I do) which is used to near perfection in this instance. I have to say that 'Be Strong' is a song on which Jah Bless may be outshined as the guitar work by both Earl 'Chinna' Smith and Ras Abijah (and Jah David on bass) stays with you just as much as the saxophone on the tune. Together, however, they make a special blend and one which is very nice to your ears.

9. 'Lessons of Life'

I had all kinds of fun dealing with 'Lessons of Life' (the song, not literally, some of  them were fun but so many of them were painful) (… and they still are) because of its kind 'roughly refined' sound. There is a polish on this sound and it is polished in abundance but 'Lessons of Life' is also kind of grimy at times. There is an almost electric vibe to the guitar (which is played by either Chet Samuel or Ronnie Moses) and the song's first 'verse' which features Jah Bless with the 'toot' as my Wife calls it, both of which have this infectiously organic and unplanned feel to them. And I also HAVE to mention the keyboard which is most subtle and comes via Ras Klamps.

10. 'Journey For Love'

It is an easy statement to make, given the title, but I certainly DO hear a love song on 'Journey For Love'. I hear moods and a kind of easy emotion to the song (but that's just my opinion, I also hear a flute which apparently is not really there). 'Journey For Love' has an interesting quality about it because I think that it is probably about half as long as I would have liked. When it reaches its end it almost seems as if it is just getting re-enthused and energized and then it begins to fade. What it does do in its time, however, is make a very nice impact on the listener and is amongst the songs on "Redemption" which I've listened to most. 

11. 'Tradition'

Jah David shines as bright as he does at any point on the album in providing the downright candy-like bass for 'Tradition'. With that thing behind you, you could pretty much do anything atop it and, thankfully Jah Bless does put forth a strong effort and one which, given its tone, was probably best. 'Tradition' despite having more flashy moments, sounds kind of quiet and comfortable to my ears and you have these effects kind of spiced in throughout (especially later on, however) which do give it an edge but every time I hear this song what leaps out is that damn bass-line. BOOM! 

12. 'Beautiful Mama'

The saxophonist takes the lead again on 'Beautiful Mama' and dazzles. I may not know exactly how to express what I'm trying to say here but there is a very nice 'backing singer' type of effect on 'Beautiful Mama'. I don't know if they doubled it or if they had another one playing but there is a saxophone behind Jah Bless which is so fascinating and it, and not the very surprising fifty-second long electric guitar solo, is what stands out most from 'Beautiful Mama'. You hear it on other songs as well but it is highlighted, at least to my ears, on this composition.

13. 'Power of The Trinity'

The 'chorus' on 'Power of The Trinity' is golden. It is one of the best on the whole of 'Redemption' and I basically 'started' at that point and spread out in listening to the track. What I found joining it was a song which, again, ranks very highly on the album in my opinion. This song got my head moving and really brought a smile to my face and I don't know if that was the thought here (though I suspect that it was) but I look at 'Power of The Trinity' as a very HAPPY tune. As it progressed (at right around four minutes) you hear echoes and background sounds which just really push the moment even further but it didn't need it. A gem! 

14. 'Redemption'

And finally the title track from "Redemption" ends things on a rolling note. This is a song to take a ride to if you have something on your mind and you need to think it through, 'Redemption, the song is your prescription. Checking in at more than six minutes long it is the longest selection on the album named after it by more than a minute and I think that they needed that long to make the point. What I hear is, as I tried to say, different states of mind on the same journey but it has a kind of 'complete' feel to it. So maybe it is about letting things go and finding some type of finality on things that have been bothering you and causing stress, which would definitely tie back into the title of the piece. 'Redemption' also does have its bright moments and, again, though I'm sure I cannot explain it (but you know that I'll try) it has a signature sound which is very bright and vibrant and you hear this thing, ever-present, and occasionally you can even kind of hear it in the background as well which is so nice because it almost seems like some piece of joy trying to interrupt some sadness.

So, while Reggae album shelves aren't exactly brimming with instrumental albums and especially not modern ones, I think that this is a very solid addition. "Redemption" is a very HEALTHY album at more than an hour in length over fourteen tracks and though I did say I would have liked some of the songs (especially one of them) a bit longer, that may just be…  because I am a nerd but I definitely recommend this one to fans of the genre both new and old given its close relations to other very new material. Of course that "other very new material" comes courtesy of Zion High Productions and the Zion I Kings which, in "Redemption" by Jah Bless add yet another jewel to their crown.

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