VA: See Mi Yah
Rhythm & Sound

Can a 'one rhythm album' be entrancing? In the hands of Berlin producers and Basic Channel heads Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald, it certainly can, especially when they overlay the lulling skank of their “See Mi Yah” rhythm with the diverse flow of eleven reggae vocalists. Essentially the follow-up to 2003's joint Rhythm & Sound w/the artists and Rhythm & Sound the versions releases, See Mi Yah originated as a series of seven 7-inch singles comprising ten vocal and four instrumentals versions, three of the latter vinyl exclusives with only one included on the album. Stripped of vocals, one more easily hears the song's burbling bass line, gently propulsive drum pattern, and omnipresent wave of deep hiss as its hypnotic essence.

What on paper sounds potentially monotonous becomes a fascinating, 46-minute exercise in close listening, as one monitors carefully the subtle changes in arrangement and vocal style that differentiate one version from another; sometimes, for example, vocals are presented solo, at other times massed into choirs, like on Walda Gabriel's “Boss Man.” A brief hiccup separates one track from the next, almost as if a breath were being taken in the studio as the next singer steps up to the mic. Willi Williams' laconic flow sweetens the title track, followed by Jah Cotton's slightly more aggressive declarative style (Jah Cotton aka Joseph Cotton was a central figure in the Jamaican DJ scene of the 70s and 80s). Sugar Minott's smooth delivery distinguishes “Let Jah Love Come” while Freddy Mellow's languid turn on “Truly” is at times so soft it verges on a whisper. “Rise And Praise” finds the vocals of Berlin-based Dominican Koki laden with heavy echo, while Rod Of Iron's approach in “Lightning Storm” is more recitative and trance-like by comparison. “Free For All” includes the soulful, Curtis Mayfield-like twang of Paul St. Hilaire's electric guitar plus a lush horn backing that floats through the background. One of the album's major pleasures is hearing the singers lag so serenely behind the beat; notice how casually, for instance, Sugar Minott presents his verses on “Let Jah Love Come.” Of course, while reggae and jazz are worlds apart as genres, in this particular respect it's impossible to listen to See Mi Yah without thinking of Billie Holiday, an acknowledged master of the style who raised it to the level of art.

April 2005