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V/A - Studio One Dub

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Artist: V/A

Album: Studio One Dub

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: May. 14, 2004

Dub has its genesis in the 1950s and ’60s sound systems that ruled the dance in Jamaica. Each system pumped out loud and bass-heavy sounds – first, American rhythm and blues, then the newly created Jamaican sounds of ska, rocksteady, and, eventually, reggae – to fuel the ecstasy of dancers.

It was all about having the freshest sounds, the rhythms and versions that no other sound systems had, and this led to each system needing their own exclusive “dub plates” – one-off pressings on soft wax. The creative and radical re-mixing we have come to think of as dub grew directly from attempts to satisfy a seemingly endless need for new and unique sounds.

The late Clement “Coxsone” Dodd was one of the true pioneers and masters of dub. His label, Studio One, was as important to Jamaican music as Stax-Volt and Motown were to American soul and pop, and Dodd presided over and directed a Studio One house sound that, in its balance of sonic elements and grooves, remains definitive of reggae’s classic era.

Along with brilliant recording engineer Sylvan Morris, Dodd mixed versions and dubs himself, with a sharp and focused aesthetic that set them apart from most other crucial dub. While other masters like King Tubby and Lee Perry stretched the genre to explore the elements of space, time, and power, Dodd’s Studio One versions – featuring the riddims of session groups like Sound Dimension, Soul Defenders, and Brentford Allstars – tended more toward a dance-floor sense of rhythmic propulsion and inevitability.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty of sonic texture and experimentation to be heard on Studio One Dub’s rare and vintage cuts from the ’60s and early ’70s. But even as the sounds shift and morph, the groove is held sacred here – there’s very little in the way of cut and break. The rhythms, from ska to rock-steady to rockers, are often mixed as if to give an X-ray or MRI of their inner workings: a neophyte reggae rhythm section player could go to school by listening closely to what’s going on here. Guitars and horns, organ, piano, even clavinet and synth-drums, are most often presented like lead vocals over the churning, interlocked grooves. When vocals do appear, they are left surprisingly intact: the echo-treated roots cry on “Rastaman Version”; the ghostly, spine-tingling, soul-influenced rock steady harmonies of “Pretty Version.” The overall effect is streamlined, aimed more at the dancing body than the inner-space exploring brain.

As expected from the Soul Jazz label, the packaging is bright and colorful, a nod to the covers of the original Studio One releases. And the liner notes feature valuable interviews with both Clement Dodd and Sylvan Morris; Morris even reveals some technical secrets of how he captured the killer and crucial Studio One bass sound.

Taken as a whole, Studio One Dub is a varied, kaleidoscopic, and satisfying journey. It’s also, now, a fitting memorial to the creative energies of a brilliant and revered musical innovator.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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