Billboard, February 1999
© 1999 Billboard
Jah Wobble Explores 'Deep' Celtic Sounds On Paras Group's 'Poets', by Jim Bessman
- British bassist/composer Jah Wobble is so prolific that he created his
own label, 30 Hertz Records, to put out his many varied recording projects.
Now Paras Group International, the Burbank, Calif. based company that is distributing Wobble product through Rykodisc, is following its initial Wobble release, 'Umbra Sumus' - which came out domestically last August -with "The Celtic Poets," which comes out March 12 in the U.S. following its Jan 19 release in many other territories.
Actually, "The Celtic Poets" was Wobble's first of five 30 Hertz releases; it came out in the U.K. in 1997. The album, which contains music composed by the one-time Public Image Ltd. bassist - sometimes to accompany poetry by the likes of Shane MacGowan and Brendan Kennelly - was followed by a mass, "Requiem": a modern-jazz effort. "The Light Program"; "Umbra Sumus"; and the Chinese inflected "The Five Tone Dragon", which was commissioned by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and features the orchestra with Chinese Ku-Cheng harpist Zi Lan Liao, Wobble's wife.
A sixth Wobble title on 30 Hertz, titled "Deep Space", is due this spring in the UK and the composer says it's "heavy trance" in nature. The company's name, incidentally, refers to a bass frequency that "is about as low as you get before a signal breaks up completely," Wobble says.
"I started it because I wanted to start releasing more than one album a year", adds Wobble, whose most recent US release was "Heaven And Earth", issued by Island in 1996. "Major labels see that as competing against yourself, but I write a lot an have faith in my work. And for an artist like me, who's a bit of a maverick, a major-label (situation) is a little bit inefficient."
Island, says Wobble, had wanted a sequel to his successful 1994 album, "Take Me To God", when he made the "Celtic Poets". The more recently recorded "Umbra Sumus", he notes, essentially became that sequel in its sense of spirituality and "play of shadows." That album's title, in fact, is Latin for "we are the sum of shadow," says Wobble. "There's an interplay and unity of darkness and light," he says, "sub-consciousness and unconsciousness - which is where great art happens."
"The Celtic Poets," as the title suggests, explore Celtic concepts. "A lot of Celtic music that I've heard tends to be too much on the light, folky side," says Wobble, "I wanted to convey something in the idiom that I would call Celtic that's very heavy and unapologetically deep - very bass and drums and not too light and 'diddley-diddley-dee-dee' in a cliched fiddle approach."
Wobble's "very rootsy, direct, and raw" musical backing used "irregular rhythm" patterns and loops, keyboards, bells, pipes, sitar, reeds, horns, Ku-Cheng, and Japanese shakuhachi flute. "I think of it as primitive music but very sophisticated," he says.
The poetry is primarily recited by the Dubliners 'Ronnie Drew. Wobble enlisted him after the two shared a poetry bill in which Drew performed MacGowan's "The Dunes" - which is the album's opening cut.
"I particularly like that track, which is about the Irish potato famine," says Delphire Blue, an air personality at the listener-sponsored station WABD New York. "But I love all his albums. He takes all of these different sounds - bagpipes. Indian music, duo- which seems strange when you say it. But when you listen, it's not at all like the verbal description and sound incredible."
Paras Group sent "The Celtic Poets" to college and public radio stations soon after Christmas. "Umbra Sumus" is still getting a lot of play, but this is something that's completely different." notes Paras president Jim Snowden, "So we won't be stepping on its toes."
Snowden says that besides traditional music retail, Paras will market "The Celtic Poets" to regular Celtic and "non-traditional Celtic" speciality outlets.
"But the broader stroke of this whole thing is what we're doing with 30 Hertz," he notes. "The beauty of Wobble is that he's a diverse musical genius. We came out with the "Umbra Sumus" first because it's a little more accessible. And if people get hooked into it, the rest of the title will follow suit more easily, and people will look forward to seeing something new from Wobble and how different it is. He's burying these things out faster than you can keep up, is what it boils down to, and our goal is to build up his name and catalogue and label."
Snowden hopes that Wobble will tour, perhaps in the Spring, with his band, the Invader Of The Heart. Yet Wobble is also a visiting fellow at Goldsmith's University in London, and he wants to write a book.
"Increasingly I think the music is the marketing," says Wobble, "I'm not thinking in terms of selling loads of records next week. The main thing is to enjoy doing it. It's almost a 'professional amateur' approach."
Wobble is a karate enthusiast who refers to the martial arts in discussing music.
"Just doing it is the joy," he says. "And also like the martial arts, I want to get it out there - with respect - and not start panicking and getting frightened about success. Because the whole music business is in very bad shape anyway, and now is the time for smaller companies to be able to relax and take a few chances. And I think there's going to be more professional amateurs like me - for whom the joy is making the music and who believe in the music but don't need to sell 50 million records to boast their self-esteem. And with the new technology, it's possible to put stuff together quite cheaply and quickly."
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