December 2007

Josh Roseman: Give the Drummond Some

The paramount trombonist of the Skatalites, Don Drummond was a prolific composer who, before taking his own life at age 37, penned over 300 songs and laid the groundwork for countless trombonists to come, Boston’s Josh Roseman being no exception. “Don Drummond was a luminary,” Roseman says, “a guiding light for the ska and jazz movement in Jamaica. And being of Jamaican descent as well, I think about his position in the music and the broader context.”

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David Bias

Josh Roseman

Roseman pays tribute to Drummond and takes his legacy a step further on New Constellations (Accurate), recorded live at Vienna’s Birdland club. Drummond’s compositions are remixed and reimagined, presented alongside Roseman’s own hard-grooving originals, and brought to life by a new band. “There are three components to it: It is a tribute to Don, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. My evolving, burgeoning path that I’m working on just has to do with giving back artistically, culturally and karmically to people who’ve sustained me, and Don is definitely one of them. Next it’s a live record, and then the third aspect of it is that it’s a remix record.”

Roseman is no stranger to progressive modern jazz, having recorded with Dave Holland, Don Byron and John Medeski, among others. New Constellations marks the formation of a new band, reuniting Roseman with multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum and introducing trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. “Peter and Ambrose are both really unique guys; it’s not even so much that they’re saxophone and trumpet players, it’s just that their personalities come out so strongly in the music that I just want to play with them.” The rhythm team includes Jonathan Maron and Barney McAll on bass and keys, respectively, both veterans of the funk-fueled Josh Roseman Unit, and Justin Brown on drums.

Unlike Drummond, who recorded most of his material at Jamaica’s legendary Studio One, Roseman was without many of the typical studio amenities while recording in Vienna. Whether it was too little sleep, too little rehearsal time, a mish-mosh of recording equipment or even Vienna’s U-Bahn subway tracks rumbling beneath the club, Roseman reveled in the turmoil. “I don’t shy away from that kind of chaos,” he says. “It’s stimulating in a way and we just took the resulting stuff with warts and all—the monitors bleeding into the microphones, the crowd noise—and not only celebrated it, but I tried to treat it the way that an animator would treat it. I tried to take this live, kooky stuff and saturate it and infuse it with even more color somehow and bring out some of the wackiness that was already in there.” The result is a live examination of the synthesis of ska and jazz that pays tribute to Drummond while giving a glimpse of what lies ahead.

“Satta Massaganna” is the album’s opening track and the lone studio cut. The consummate Jamaican anthem is brought back to life with echo-saturated drum fills and robust horn swells. “Greasy Feets Music” sounds like Zappa drenched in dub, as complex three-horn melodies dash about amid rhythmic duelling. “The musicians onstage have a Technicolor way of approaching things, so it just seemed that pushing the envelope until it broke into pretty shards was really true to the aesthetic and true to the intent, so we weren’t shy about it at all,” Roseman says. “If we were to be in a studio with more control, it wouldn’t have had the same kind of vibrancy of kinetic energy to it.”

Nothing is safe from the dub treatment, as the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” is adorned with the typical dub stylings both onstage and on the mixing board, resulting in an experiment that melds the delightful naiveté of John Lennon’s original melody with resounding reggae grooves. It’s just one example of how Roseman’s dub dynamic with a keen mix of originals and ska classics makes New Constellations a compelling live record that works to reaffirm reggae’s jazz legacy. “All this music is out there, and it is just a question of using what means something to you. Then, after that, maybe someone else will be able to do something with it; carry it. It’s nice not being able to know what the ultimate effects of your work might be.”

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