A potentially interesting fusion of the twin pillars of reggae ‘riddim’ in Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær that largely does not come off and leaves any fan of reggae distinctly cold. Had a fiery sounding trumpeter or instrumentalist been paired with the mighty two of reggae rhythm sections, then this might have been a different story altogether. As it is, the layered synths and measured trumpet tones are far too preoccupied with creating atmosphere and that, sadly, means bass and drum are muffled and lost in translation.
The music works best when the reggae rhythms predominate as on, ‘How Long’, ‘Strange Bright Crowd’, and even, ‘War in the Blues’. However, it is only at the very end of the album that we even begin to hear what might resemble dub on, ‘Politically KKKorrrekkkttt’, but by then the battle has been lost. The cultural distance between this cerebral and laid back form of jazz and reggae is simply too great for any common ground to be possible.
Reggae and jazz can certainly come together in perfect harmony. One only needs to hear the music of Tommy McCook, Bobby Ellis, the piano genius of Monty Alexander paired with Ernest Ranglin, or even the instrumental delicacy of melodica legend Augustus Pablo to realize that. However, Molvaer makes no attempt whatsoever to accommodate reggae into his own repertoire and plods on with his own style, which is frankly anathema to a hot and spicy musical fusion. There is no doubting the virtuosity of Sly and Robbie, or their willingness to divert from norms, and they can and indeed have operated outside of the reggae vernacular (Grace Jones being a spectacular success in all respects). On this occasion, though, it is one experiment too many and more to the point one that emphatically does not function.