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Sound Dimension - Jamaica Soul Shake Vol. 1

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Artist: Sound Dimension

Album: Jamaica Soul Shake Vol. 1

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Mar. 26, 2006

Sometime around 1967, the cool, beach-smooth sounds of Jamaican rock steady began to morph into the leaner, harder, more urban style of early reggae. Among the prime movers of that stylistic shift was the stellar Studio One instrumental team known as Sound Dimension. Players like keyboard giant Jackie Mittoo and bassist Leroy Sibbles were on hand from the Studio One hit-making team called the Soul Vendors, providing some continuity with the previous era. But there was no doubt that a fresh new sound – and the revolutionary cultural attitude to go with it – was forming in the vibrant latter years of the 1960s.

According to legend, the name Sound Dimension itself came from lettering on guitarist Eric Frater's favorite echo machine, and that makes sense in the light of how important a new, sharper-edged guitar sound – and the addition of effects like wah-wah and echo – would become to the new sound of reggae. Those guitar sounds, evinced here both by Frater and the legendary Ernest Ranglin, slide in perfectly with the classic-era pulse of drum and bass and bubbling B-3, leaving wide-open spaces for some fine jazzy horn solos from the likes of Roland Alphonso, Headley Bennett, and Cedric Brooks. (Mittoo's keyboards get plenty of solo space, too.) In fact, many of these very tracks- – or copy-cat rhythms paying tribute to them – have been recycled continuously all through the four decades since their original release.

And it's easy to hear why: Sound Dimension was simply one of the great rhythm sections of all time, playing with the same paradoxical tightness and tensile give-and-take to be found in the recordings of legendary groove brethren like Booker T and The MGs or the Page-Jones- Green All-Americans of the late-1930s Basie band.

The variety of sounds and textures delivered by Sound Dimension on these tracks is impressive. "Federated Backdrop" sets growling and squawking sax over wah-wah guitar and hissing high-hat. "Rathid,” with its bubbling organ and chugging, octave guitars hinting at a bluesy minor tonality, is classic early roots. "Soul Shake,” with Mittoo's cool organ engaging in call and response with tight horns over a rhythm that still wears traces of its rock steady roots, is simply a perfect blend of reggae and soul. "My Heart In Rhythm" is utterly fascinating, a simple, skeletal arrangement of rhythm section elements that gives illuminating insight into exactly how rock steady became reggae.

It bears repeating that the Soul Jazz collections have set a high standard for audio quality, and Jamaica Soul Shake Vol. 1 is no exception to that. Indeed, those responsible for re-mastering these tracks seem to have found (and released) most of the punch, rumble, and majesty still held within aging original magnetic oxides and vinyl grooves.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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