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Rhythm & Sound - w/ the artists & the versions

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Artist: Rhythm & Sound

Album: w/ the artists & the versions

Label: Asphodel

Review date: Oct. 21, 2003

Exactitude, much more so than style, distinguishes Rhythm & Sound from other dub projects. Claiming the somehow inexhaustible process of reduction as mantra, Rhythm & Sound make dub with the fewest possible elements; namely, rhythm and sound.

Such a reductive method has in fact been the basis of dub since its earliest days. The first dubs were b-side mixes of late-60's reggae singles. Producers removed the vocals, allowing the crowd to sing the original lyrics or emcees to improvise their own. Dub is a democracy whose first triumph was to ensure the inclusion of the listener as active participant in musical culture. It turns songs into spheres, accessible from all angles. Through dub, musicians, producers, and listeners enjoy equal access to shaping music.

And dub, as it became increasingly artful, also codified the role of producer as performer. This role was legitimated chiefly by King Tubby, Black Uhuru, Lee Perry, and others whose studio finessing made sound into an instrument. Rhythm and sound, from then on, were the focal points of the genre, at the exclusion of all that which became unnecessary in the process.

In short: less is more, so dub contracts. Musicians otherwise tend to expand on past concepts, augmenting those concepts with newness, holding onto the cores of some useful traditional ideas while also making them relevant to the here and now. This progression carries an obvious logic, in fact it may circumscribe the most common route of artistic betterment: artists incorporate the present by speaking to new technologies, new histories, new desires. Art consumes modernity, offering interpretation or more chaos as its eventual reconstitution. Dub, to the contrary, stares deeply into music as discrete sonic parts, exploring what is important -- what people respond to -- and discarding the debris.

For all of this precision, Rhythm & Sound focus more intently on the basics than perhaps any other dub group. Exactitude, like I say. Augustus Pablo's dubs featured the distinctive melodica, Basic Channel (an earlier project of Mark and Maurizio, who are Rhythm & Sound) combined dub with minimal Detroit techno, and Pole employed advanced technologies to produce a slick and highly representational dub. But Rhythm & Sound cannot be defined by fusion or innovation. They adhere to the original program of dub, following the path of reduction deeper and deeper into the brush.

Rhythm & Sound's new two-disc release includes Rhythm & Sound w/ the artists, a collaboration between the German producers and seven members of the Wackies crew, a group of reggae artists who recorded with Lloyd "Bullwackie" Barnes in the Bronx in the 1980's, as well as a CD of dubs, called (without pretense of course) The Versions. Recently, Rhythm & Sound have worked only with vocalist Paul St. Hilaire, so the appearance of six extra Wackies groups is a surprise and a treat.

The vocals on the artist disc sink deep into the production, with classic doses of heavy reverb and subtle alteration. All of the singers are solid, though I can't deny a soft spot for Love Joy in particular. On "Best Friend," she sings of her best friend and her lover, in rich tones that fit Rhythm and Sound's steady grooves. The melody of her song could repeat indefinitely without wearing thin. Another highlight: Cornel Campbell and Jennifer Lara perform, respectively, "King in My Empire" and "Queen in My Empire," over the same instrumental track.

The versions disc doesn't exclude the vocals entirely, but definitely sublimates them within the mixes. As opposed to earlier Rhythm & Sound work, there is less ambient grit and more direct dubbing here. These are more song songs than the ethereal pieces on some of their 12" releases and 2001's self-titled Rhythm & Sound, in that there are invariably parts and changes to accommodate the singing.

Rhythm & Sound are purists, indeed, and in good faith they continue to find more amazing possibilities in the simple philosophy which their name explains as well as any two words could. These two essential discs build on the legacy of a group who improve by looking inward, not outward, refining their own production techniques in the belief that the basics of music form an unbroken link between human consciousness and the elevation thereof.

By Ben Tausig

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