All photos by Mike aka swanny0586
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from a work friend of mine, Mike S, who has been expressing some interest in LMB for a while. Mike caught a great reggae show in Charlottesville last week and felt compelled to snap some photos and do a solid write-up for LMB. Though I had never heard of Groundation, he has definitely piqued my interest. Check it out.
It is always a memorable moment when a piece of music involuntarily grabs a hold of you. I was first introduced to Groundation when a friend began playing their album Hebron Gate at a little get together last year. Immediately, whatever conversation I was involved in dropped and I had to know, “Who is this? Where are they from? How have I not heard this before?” I was instantly drawn to the remarkable structure of this album and the unparalleled vocal expression of lead singer Harrison Stafford. I noticed that each song had its own distinctive quality and feel, and for me, it evolved into one of the few wide-ranging, concrete albums that I can listen through without ever feeling the urge to skip a track.
After doing some research into this uplifting reggae group and listening to some of their other albums, I was all the more captivated and became increasingly eager to see them live. This great anticipation finally took shape when I noticed a few weeks back that Groundation would be making an east coast run. Not only that, but I saw that they were playing only three blocks from my current residence. I could not have asked for a better opportunity…
At a small bar in Charlottesville last Wednesday night, Groundation put on one of the best small venue shows I have seen in a very long time. It was incredibly high-energy, as the group used the improv skills of their collective jazz backgrounds to explore new avenues on each of their original songs. What I was most interested in hearing was how they would transform the dub sounds from their albums to the live stage. They pulled it off with incredible accuracy, using deep reverb and delay on vocals and all sorts of percussion instruments. Their dub passages rivaled the spacey ambiance originally made famous in the reggae scene by Augustus Pablo and King Tubby. Augustus Pablo also came to mind when keyboardist Marcus Urani busted out the melodica; what a great sound from such a simple instrument.
Highlights of the night included an extended trumpet, bass, and percussion-crazed build-up into the whirling organ intro of ”Jah Jah Know” and a thrilling encore of “Freedom Taking Over.” The latter was originally produced with vocal support from Cedric Myton of the Congos and legendary reggae artist Don Carlos on Hebron Gate. At different points in the night, Harrison Stafford provided space for each member to take off on their own tangent. He seemed to provoke their digressions by turning to face each musician directly, watching his fellow band mates take the music out as far as they possibly can, and clearly enjoying every moment. Most impressive was the rhythmic insanity of percussionist Mingo Lewis Jr., who caught the whole crowd by surprise with a commanding use of his percussion kit. I also gained even more respect for drummer Paul Spina (Les Claypool, Will Bernard’s Mother Bug) who amplified the experimental intensity of the night.
Ryan Newman and Marcus Urani held firm on the highly syncopated bass/organ rhythm, the cornerstone of reggae structure, which initially grabbed my attention the first time I heard Hebron Gate. That’s not to say these two members did not also have their moments of pure spontaneity, but their combination of sound is the obvious epicenter of each song’s structure. And last but definitely not least-the soulful vocal accompaniment provided by Kerry Ann Morgan and Kim Pommell expanded the overall harmonic range with great purity.
In essence, each member of Groundation fills a separate component of the structural space to generate a potent blend of jazz-infused reggae and dub with abundant room for improvisation. Even if you are not big on reggae, I highly encourage you to catch these guys while they are still cruising up and down the eastern seaboard. I am trying to see them again in Falls Church this Thursday; hope to see you there.
What Could Have Been
Jah Jah Know
Upon the Bridge
Live it Up
We Free Again