Soothsayers ‘Tradition’ LP/CD/DIG (Wah Wah 45s) 4/5

Here is a London group that have clocked up six previous albums, and have, of 2017, changed attack when signing to hip indie label, Wah Wah 45s. With a change of label comes a slightly different emphasis, accentuating the reggae influences in the use of dub effects, strong bass lines and brass ensemble, while still building on the subtle Afro-Beat connections that are never too overpowering, or imitative. The first tangible evidence of a new direction arrived with an EP/remix project and now the new album is here. It has as its primary focus a celebration of the human spirit and both roots reggae and dub elements are to the fore. Typical of the band’s approach is the mid-tempo title track that features some lovely minor chords Fender, male and female harmony vocals, and just the faintest hint of dub effects. The overall effect is highly distinctive, separating the band from the Afro-Beat wannabees. That sound is followed up both on, ‘Nothing can stop us’, with a terrifically catchy chorus and brass motif that lingers long on the mind, as well as on, ‘Heart rules head’.

The Soothsayers reach out into different terrain on the flute-led reworking of Bob Marley’s, ‘Natural mystic’, where the keyboards are made to sound akin to a clavinet, while the gentle soothing saxophone soars aided by trumpet in tandem. A more left-field track once again with subtle horns and Afro-Beat percussion is, ‘Dis and day’, which is topped off by a supremely soulful male vocal that repeats the memorable line, ‘Soon come to victory’. One of the greatest of all Jamaican jazz exponents and a long time resident in the UK, trombonist Rico Rodriguez, remains a much-loved figure long after his passing, and the slow starting instrumental, ‘Good night Rico’, which rapidly morphs into a mid-temp groove, adds just the right touch of respectful homage. Guest vocalist Cornell Campbell and Julia Biel combine effectively on, ‘Take me high’, complete with spiritual lyrics and dub effect intro. In fact elsewhere Biel’s slightly behind the beat delivery recalls Amy Winehouse, as with the roots reggae beat of, ‘Watching the stars’. However, key to the new Soothsayers sound is the musical injection of a new blood to the band in the form of musician and keyboardist Dele Sosimi, previously a member of Fela Kuti’s Egypt 80 formation. His soloing weaves into the collective whole and makes the sound all the stronger. Co-leaders Idris Rahman saxophones and flute) and Robin Hopcraft (trumpet) ensure that the brass is tight throughout, and at various intervals, one can hear a keyboardist stretch out, or the sound of a rhythm or wah-wah guitar effect. Little wonder that this band have been championed by no less than the Godfather of reggae on the radio in the UK, Dave Rodigan, and Jazzie B, among others.

Tim Stenhouse