Presenting: Kingston All Stars By Midnight Raver
One of my most anticipated reggae albums for 2017 finds Canadian producer, engineer and musician Moss “Mossman” Raxlen teaming up in Jamaica with some of reggae’s most legendary artists to record an album for the ages, Presenting: Kingston All Stars.
Reggae has always found a home in Canada as many of Jamaica’s most legendary musicians left the island in the early 1970s amidst sociopolitical turmoil for the bitter cold streets of Toronto, Ontario. Artists like Ernie Smith, Carlene Davis, Ken Boothe, Willie Williams, Fabienne Miranda, Joe Cooper, Jackie Mittoo, Stranger Cole, Alton Ellis, and Johnny Osbourne did their bid north of the border for some time before returning to Jamaica. Even renowned record producer Prince Jammy (Lloyd James) lived in relative obscurity in Toronto during the 1970s. That scene has stayed strong throughout the years and cities like Toronto and Montreal still have some of the hottest reggae scenes on the planet today.
Spearheaded by Canadian producer, engineer and musician Moss “Mossman” Raxlen (Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae), the Kingston All Stars includes a cadre of legendary session players largely responsible for some of the greatest Jamaican music ever recorded. The group includes Sly Dunbar and Mikey “Boo” Richards (drums); Hux Brown and Mikey “Mao” Chung (guitars); Robbie Lyn and Ansel Collins (keyboards); Supersad and Calvin (kette drums); Dean Barnett (steel pan); Alpha Boys school alumni Everton and Everald Gayle (on sax and trombone, respectively); and Roger White (guitar and percussion). The album, titled Presenting: Kingston All Stars features vocal performances from the likes of Cedric Myton (The Congos), R Zee Jackson, Prince Allah, Alana Jonsana, Stranger Cole and Trevor McNaughton (Melodians). The album was recorded at The Mixing Lab studio in Kingston during the winter and spring of 2016, with further overdubbing and mixing overseen by Moss in Montreal.
The album opens with the lilting “Tribute to Kebra Hi-Fi,” a rocking rhythmic instrumental featuring a brilliant arrangement of horns, guitars, keys, and a tapestry of percussive sounds. Each player’s individual performance comes through strong and with crystal clarity. Mossman weaves them all together in a soundscape that is simply splendid, losing nothing in the final mix. It is a phenomenal opening track and sets a high bar for the rest of the album. Prince Allah is the first to bless the mic with “Man on Board,” a vintage rocksteady tune with a hard Rastafari edge (“Know I was telling them of that judgment day, but they only laughed old man go away, then the rain it start to fall, cover every tree cover every mountain cover everywhere there was an open sea! Jah bless the man on board…”). Mossman follows the Allah vocal with the wickedest dub version titled “Beyond the Open Sea.” When you hear this version you’ll be one of many asking “How come me never hear dis man dem call Mossman?”
Ansel Collins voices “Just When,” a breezy, bouncy tune with a revival feel. Cedric Myton brings his signature falsetto on “My Father’s House,” another rootikal Rastafari tune with heavy nyabinghi elements (“It’s the red, gold, and green taking ova, It’s the red, gold, and green you better run fi cover!”). Canadian stalwart R Zee Jackson returns with a strong performance on “Bossman Say.” The album closes with a nice trifecta of deep roots instrumentals.
Most fans probably associate the Mixing Lab with a more modern reggae sound as is truly gained notoriety in the 1990s with popular productions from Shaggy, Sly and Robbie, Chaka Demus and Pliers, Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea, and Gregory Isaacs. In fact, the Mixing Lab embodied the modern sound of reggae for artists like Isaacs and McGregor who had cut their teeth and built their careers on that golden reggae sound of the 1970s that was created in studios like Studio One and Channel One. However, with Presenting: Kingston All Stars, Mossman creates a sound as vintage and authentic as any I’ve heard in decades – a true testament to the style of throwback production employed – live players, live instruments, key microphone placement, and superior mixing. While the music is tight the atmosphere is loose. Many of the tracks play in with Sly counting down the intros and out with ambient studio noise. The vibes are level from start to finish.
Presenting: Kingston All Stars is not about the latest audio software package, or the newest high-end mixing desk, or the most recent edition of MacBook Pro this or that. Presenting: Kingston All Stars is about word, sound, and power. It is about gathering a weathered group of well-travelled, road-weary, deeply-callused musicians in a room and letting them cut loose on aged instruments. Some call it “old-fashioned.” I call it “timeless.” Good people. Good food. Good stories. Good vibes. Great music.
Presenting: Kingston All Stars will be released on the Roots & Wire label in digital/CD/vinyl on March 17, 2017. They will also be issuing 300 silk screen limited vinyl editions for the collectors. Visit http://www.kompakt.fm to purchase.
1. Tribute To Kebra Hi-Fi
2. Man On Board ( ft. Prince Alla )
3. Beyond The Open Sea
4. Just When ( ft. Ansel Collins )
5. Rudeboy Wail ( ft. Jonsana )
6. My Father’s House ( ft. Cedric “Congos” Myton )
7. Bossman Say ( ft. R Zee Jackson )
9. Jah Made It All ( ft. Prince Alla )
11. Swing Back
12. Eastern Ska