Cedric Im Brooks & The Light of Saba
Honest Jons Records
Horns have almost always been delegated a background role in Jamaican music, and even as such not a particularly interesting one anyway. Guitars and keyboards have historically been far more dominant for both reinforcing the afterbeat and filling solo space. And so saxophonist Cedric Brooks, maybe the most prominent horn player in the history of Jamaican music, represents a breath of fresh air.
The other strike in Brooks' favor is his refreshing openness to jazz, Afro-beat, funk, and Afro-Caribbean styles in addition to reggae. Since reggae is highly Afro-centric anyway, it's surprising that Jamaican players of the '70s rarely followed these routes. I suspect the big stars were too busy smoking themselves silly to get beyond the genre's insular format.
Best I can tell, this is the only Cedric Brooks record available today, so it's your only opportunity to check out what he brought to the music. The London label known as Honest Jons has assembled 19 tracks which cover the range from Fela Kuti to Bob Marley to Horace Silver and Sun Ra, with several stops in between. I can't tell when any of them were recorded, so let's just leave that a mystery. It's most definitely a '70s thing, reflecting the heyday of both funk and reggae proper.
The expansive interview included in the liner notes will answer every possible question you might have about the artist. The most relevant part concerns the large Rastafarian group which started as the Divine Light and later became the Light of Saba. It consisted of several players, singers and dancers sharing a semi-communal space in Brooks' back yard for an extended period, very similar to what Sun Ra had going.
The insane abundance of drummers in the group tells you something about its sound. On the aptly named "Africa," a whole swarm of drums and percussion comes out in interlocking patterns to underlie a madly groovy disco beat; meanwhile voices chant "Africa!" and Brooks briefly solos on alto. It's directly out of '70s Nigeria, make no mistake about that. (All those sticks and hands come together for a strictly drums-only jam one tune later.) Only the slowed-down Afro-beat piece "Sabasi" comes closer to Fela Kuti's sound.
The calypso "Sly Mongoose" has a loosely swinging alto line above meshed guitars, bass, and drums. "Jah Light It Right" comes along later with a two-chord vamp and jazzy playing by both Brooks and trombonist Calvin Bubbles Cameron, who incidentally was taught by Melba Liston Smith during her brief tenure in Kingston in the late '70s. A highly credible version of Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" emerges toward the end, followed by an intensely reverberant dub reprise of the opener. And yes, there is some straight-up reggaewell, sort ofin the form of the meditative "Rebirth."
As judged by the inspired organic sound of these tracks, Cedric Im Brooks managed to achieve what he set out to do: bring a large collection of voices together into a living, breathing whole. You aren't likely to find Jamaican music much more genre-bending than this.
Tracks: 1. Lambs bread collie; 2. Sabasi; 3. Free up black man; 4. Outcry; 5. Salt Lane rock; 6. Sabebe; 7. Nobody's business; 8. Rasta lead on version; 9. Sabayindah; 10. Rebirth; 11. Satta massa gana; 12. Africa; 13. Sound; 14. Sly mongoose; 15. Words of wisdom; 16. Jah light it right; 17. Ethiopia tikdem; 18. Song for my father; 19. Collie Version.
Personnel: Cedric 'Im Brooks: Arranger, Alto and Tenor Sax, Voices, Clarinet, Percussion; Calvin "Bubbles" Cameron: Trombone; Barbara Boland: Flute; Brother Bingi Brown: Bass Drums; Brother Levi Sleeves Cornelius: Drums, Funde Drum; Calmore Shine Stewart: Drums, Funde Drum; Chimpeka: Conga, Voices, Percussion; David Little Dee Trail: Guitar; Dean Fraser: Trumpet; Lesley Mitchell Clarke: Voices; Liz Campbell: Conga, Voices, Percussion; Lynford Son Myles: Drums, Voices, Funde Drum, Trap Kit; Mackie Burnett: Conga; Mike Star: Voices, Bass; Nambo Robinson: Voices, Percussion, Trombone; Pat Lewis: Conga; Peter Ashbourne: Keyboards; Phillip Whyte: Voices, Bass, Guitar, Percussion; Roy Lynn Vassel: Drums, Funde Drum; Saba: Voices, Percussion; Seamus Ennis: Drums, Funde Drum ; Sister Eleanor Wint: Conga, Voices, Percussion; Vinton Roberts: Bass; Young Son: Voices, Trap Kit.