It's been four years since the release of Soothsayers' last album, the masterpiece Tangled Roots (Red Earth, 2005), but it seems like yesterday. A turbulent mash-up of jazz, Afrobeat, dub and funk, the disc still blows through the speakers like a fresh gale, coursing out of the vibrant, multi-cultural, south London milieu, centered around Brixton, which is Soothsayers' stamping ground. Tangled Roots was the band's second album, following Lost City (Red Earth, 2001), another rough diamond, with a shared ambiance.
One More Reason stays with the program, but this time, as the sleeve art signals, the accent is less on jazz and Afrobeat, and more on reggae and dub. Roots vocalists Johnny Clarke, Michael Prophet, Linval Thompson and Bob Skeng are featured on five tracks, Mad Professor and Nick Manasseh contribute two dub versions, and Manasseh does the mix down. Jamaica and its London diaspora are the album's dominant cultural presences.
So far, so good, if reggae is your thing. The downside is that One More Reason is less of a hybrid than its predecessors, more mono-cultural. This time out, Soothsayers has narrowed its stylistic focus and, disappointingly, is more reverential with its source material: there's plenty of invention around the edges, but less of the band's glorious, trademark miscegenation in the center.
There are, nonetheless, some fine moments. The upbeat "Music" reveals guest keyboardist Zoe Rahman, sister of Soothsayers' co-leader, reed player Idris Rahman, and an acoustic jazz pianist of substance, as a seriously funky electric player. Zoe shines in similar style on "River Effra," Soothsayers' mellow but muscular tribute to ska and the Skatalites, featuring Trevor Edwards' post-Don Drummond trombone. "Mama Said" is the album's sole bona fide F1 hybrid, its insistent little tune shared, incongruously but delightfully, between Bob Skeng and Idris Rahman on bass clarinet. The Michael Prophet showcase, "Tears Of Sorrow," a bleak lament on the consequences of gun culture, has weight and a strong tune, and Nick Manasseh's closing "Tears In Dub" makes the most of both qualities. The album's sole Afrobeat track, "Slow Down," has some exciting work from Idris Rahman on tenor saxophone and the other Soothsayers' co-leader, Robin Hopcraft, on trumpet. "Irie," warmly sung by Mellow Baku, is charming, kind of "Uptown Top Ranking" with a message.
All this adds up to plenty of good music. But the sum, this time, is not greater than its parts.
Personnel: Idris Rahman: saxophone, bass clarinet, vocals; Robin Hopcraft: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals; Johnny Clarke: vocals (4, 10); Mellow Baku: vocals (7, 8); Michael Prophet: vocals (6); Bob Skeng: vocals (9); Linval Thompson: vocals (12). Collective personnel: Dan Hewson: trombone; Trevor Edwards: trombone; Zoe Rahman: keyboards; Phil Dawson: piano, guitar; Adrian Mackenzie: keyboards; Robert Bailey: keyboards; Lucky Ranku: guitar; Derek Johnson: guitar; Andy Gibson: oud; Kodjovi Kush: guitar, bass; Neville Malcolm: bass; Momo Hafsi: bass; Wesley Johnson: drums; Patrick Illingworth: drums; Frank Tontoh: drums; Adesose Wallace: percussion; Satin Singh: percussion; Crispin Robinson: percussion.