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Gussie Clarke - Black Foundation Dub

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Artist: Gussie Clarke

Album: Black Foundation Dub

Label: Motion

Review date: Apr. 10, 2002

We must have courage to enter the aural world of Black Foundation Dub. Perhaps it’s that the music is more real in dub-form. We feel the texture of each track as it's brought in and out of the mix. Whether guitar or percussion, we hear them absolutely drenched with reverb and echo, then suddenly dry as powder – vivid, stark and shocking. We have to be brave. If one is willing, one can discover the deep wisdom at the core of this music.

Clarke truly explores the concept of space. There are some magical moments here when, for a few moments, nothing at all is heard but silence. Then the steady drive of the drums is bearing down on you. The taut feeling, inseparable from the tempo, does not let up. The EQ settings make the familiar cross-stick on the snare drum ring-out like gunshots. Like being chased down a dangerous Kingston street, there is hysteria in this sound with tension only released through the sudden snippet of an original vocal track. For a moment we are on familiar ground. As suddenly as it appears…it's gone and we are yanked back to the present moment in all its dub style uncertainty.

The dub master (mainly King Tubby and Philip Smart) uses the individual tracks existing on the master tape like a painter creating a new, unusual portrait of a familiar scene. In this case, that scene is the original mix of the tracks widely distributed for more commercial release. King Tubby sits behind the mixing desk with the painter’s brush, providing wide swaths of bass and drums, then thin delicate shades of guitar and piano – the reverb and echo bringing out shimmering and luminous imagery.

These tracks date back to the mid-seventies and it was a new day in Jamaican music in many respects. Innovations were naturally springing up in a music that in itself an innovation. We hear the fiercely dynamic Sly Dunbar pioneering a new voice for the snare drum. There are sublime, lilting horn sections on key selections. We hear Augustus Pablo playing trademark melodica. There's a glockenspiel or orchestra bells and even a wacky sounding mini-moog synth leading the way at turns.

“Funny Feeling” is a distinctive rockers rhythm featuring Sly playing his instrument as only he can. Masterful use of EQ settings are employed on the snare. Echo is heard affecting the hi-hat while the EQ settings keep changing on the snare mic, demonstrating the superior degree of track isolation. Things like these were opening the door to more creative dub mixes. There was probably more than one set of hands on the mixing console for “Funny Feeling” and other tracks. Otherwise, mixes like these could not have been realized at this time.

All of this was happening while the political violence was reaching a fever pitch in Kingston. Economic pressure was applied from forces foreign. People were walking into stores to find little if anything on the shelves. The morgues were filling up with more and more victims of the pressure. The people must have needed solid sounds like these to get them through those surreal times.

The title track has a ghostly, eerie intro. It intensifies with this macabre feeling as the rockers beat comes together. One can imagine the skeletons of the victims of the brutal street violence of the time getting up out of their coffins. One can see them dance to this slinky toy rhythm. Their souls until now, too brutalized to budge.

Hail to producer Gussie Clarke!

Hail to King Tubby and his team!

Behold the wisdom and open space of Black Foundation Dub.

By Phil Carr

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