Cedric Im Brooks & The Light Of Saba
Cedric Im Brooks & The Light Of Saba
Honest Jon’s Records
2003
B+



deep and spacey, mellow and mysterious, the Light Of Saba was a group that built African and Jamaican percussion styles into a music that combined roots reggae and jazz with touches of mento, afrobeat, and even disco to create something wholly unique. The release of this self-titled CD, a compilation drawing from their rare albums and singles from the mid-1970s, is an event that should be welcomed by devotees of the Universal Groove.

Like many creative musical developments, the Light Of Saba stems from the inspiration of Sun Ra. Cedric Im Brooks, whose alto sax and wooden flute playing regularly graced sessions for Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One label, was visiting Philadelphia in 1968 when he met up with Sun Ra. Heavily impressed by the Arkestra’s communal living and Sun Ra’s Afro-centric philosophy, Brooks returned to Jamaica determined to create his own take on Ra’s approach. After a stint with the legendary Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, Brooks met some musicians from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and started the Light Of Saba. Besides Rastafarian drumming, they also explored older Jamaican and African drumming styles as they built Jazz-influenced horn lines and tight guitar-work on top of it.

The CD opens and closes with “Lamb’s Bread Collie” and its corresponding dub, “Collie Version”. “Lamb’s Bread Collie” starts with heavy drumming, organ, and a double-tracked melody by trombonist Calvin Cameron, Brooks’ main foil, which evokes the feeling of a lush valley at dawn. Complete with bird sounds, this track has the effect of a reggaefied “Quiet Village.” Another highlight is the following track “Sabasi,” a driving Afrobeat influenced track with interlocking guitar work. Actually, a lot of the more up-tempo tracks like “Sabasi” and the disco-inspired “Africa” and “Sabebe” (complete with Curtis Mayfield-style falsetto) reminds me of Cymande, another group from that era who combined Caribbean styles with Rock and Funk and are also well worth checking out. Other up-tempo songs, like “Rebirth” and “Jah Light It Right” feature tough, tight guitar work that calls to mind a reggaefied version of the Meters.

In a more traditional reggae vein, several songs feature group vocals, including “Free Up Black Man,” the excellent “Words Of Wisdom,” and a cover of the Abyssinians’ “Satta Massa Gana.” “Out Cry,” the dub of “Free Up Black Man,” also features some toasting. The Light Of Saba also explores mento, the pre-ska style of Jamaican music on the traditional “Nobody’s Business” and “Sly Mongoose.” With several horn players soloing simultaneously, “Sly Mongoose” is also as near as the CD gets to free jazz, but the effect feels closer to early New Orleans jazz groups like Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives. The tracks that actually show some kinship with Sun Ra’s sphere of influence are those which highlight Brooks’ wooden flute playing over the bed of percussion, such as “Sabayindah” and “Rebirth” (which includes some nice call-and-response work between Brooks and Cameron).

Several of the tracks have intriguing rhythmic twists and turns as well, including “Rasta Lead On Version”, which begins with a Rasta drum circle, but gradually transforms into Meters-style funk as the bass, guitars, trap drums, and alto sax join in. Also interesting is Brooks’ arrangement of Horace Silver’s standard “Song For My Father”. He alternates a stop-time introduction with a bolero-styled take on the main melody, but then has the bass keep playing the stop-time line during his and Cameron’s solos! Such inventive arranging is the secret ingredient that makes Cedric Im Brooks And The Light Of Saba such a fascinating CD.

Although I wish the package also included a discography, the CD does include good liner notes drawn from interviews with Brooks (who currently plays with the Skatalites) and Cameron. This is an essential listen for those into roots reggae or such reggae/jazz crossover artists as Ernest Ranglin or the Skatalites.
Reviewed by: Jim Storch
Reviewed on: 2003-09-24
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