Cosmo: Get Up and Jump from Roots
Cosmo: Get Up and Jump from Roots
By Mark Kirby, MusicDish.com
"Roots rock reggae/ it's a reggae music."
These words from Bob Marley describe the debut record by Cosmo Fraser. In this era of the rediscovered and retro - in fashion, sportswear, and all styles of music - it's inevitable and overdue to hear a new artist deal with old school reggae.
The island of Jamaica has absorbed and reflected back many forms of African-American music throughout its history. Jazz, jump blues, and soul music were boomed out over 100,000 watt stations in southern Florida, Louisiana, and Atlanta, and came back from the island as ska, rock steady, and reggae. It seems that Jamaican music is all about hip hop and dancehall, at the expense of a vast history of great music. And like the Neville Staple record of last year, which mined ska and late seventy's reggae/punk fusion, Cosmo's Get Up and Jump reinvents and creates within an old style.
"I was born and raised in Jamaica, W.I., in the Parish of Westmoreland, about eight miles from the world famous Negril Beach. I grew up in the countryside, in a family of singers. Everyone on my mother's side of the family had excellent voices. My mother, aunts and uncles were stars in our local church choirs. When Aunt Zippy would sing, the congregation would be on its feet from the very first note. Our family's instruments are our voices.
"When one is in Jamaica, the first thing one realizes is that the sound of music is everywhere. You hear music coming from the house next door, from the dread riding his bicycle down the street, from cars, trucks, busses, and from one MASSIVE Sound System after another. Everyone has their radio tuned to some station which is playing music.
"It is a birth right of Jamaicans to share their music with everyone, so music is played loudly at all time and at all hours. Riding down the street, is like your ears are on 'scan,' as everyone has another tune on their radio."
It is fitting that one of the two covers on this eleven-song disk is "Sitting In Limbo" by Jimmy Cliff (from The Harder They Come soundtrack no less). Cliff, along with Toots (and the Maytals) is clearly the starting point for his vocal style. Though rock artists (and many of the tradition-bound jazz players of today) respect the past to the point of slavish imitation, Cosmo has clearly absorbed the tradition to the point that it is integrated in his musical being and, thus, while there are various influences, he has his own voice.
"I have no formal training in music, but have been singing before I could talk. I was told that the first note that came out of my mouth was a song. Because of my ear for music, I was always discouraged from taking formal training. In the words of Fully Fullwood, 'Don't try to interfere with your God given talents. Many people try to learn the things that you were born within your head.'"
"Medicine came by accident," he reflected on his leap from med school to the stage & studio. "I was always an excellent student, particularly in mathematics and the sciences - the guy who got A+ and debated the teacher about a mathematical concept or theorem. It was not until I was a sophomore in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University though that I got interested in medicine. And it only came about because I was seeing a girl who was a pre med student at the time. I literally came back to music, even though I had never left it, because I felt I had songs in my head which needed to be heard. I truly feel that nothing can stop the music."
The title track "Get Up And Jump" sets the tone for the whole CD. It starts with a unison band intro that is pure early Wailers. Then the tune kicks off with a groove that is reminiscent of some of the earliest styles of reggae straight out of the film. Though not of the sound usually associated with the ganja-stoked, dread beat and blood image of hardcore "roots nattie," this is song is pure old school roots reggae because Cosmo captures the elegance and swing of early reggae, a sound at once raw, pure and slick. Like sixties soul music. This approach, which eschews dancehall reggae's obvious use of electronic percussion and sound effects, makes for authenticity. In other words, Cosmo brings the realness.
The next track, "I Wanna Hold you Pretty Baby," is a simple love song in the style of early Tuff Gong reggae that evolved out of rock steady. The scratchy guitar rhythms and tasty lead runs, along with the one-drop drum beat, underscore his Jamaican baritone with licks that are pure reggae. Over this percolating music, Cosmo rides in with his simple, but nimble, vocal melody.
This skanking roots sound is also prominent on his clever reversal of the Police song "Every Breath You Take." What musically starts out almost as an imitation along the lines of George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord/He's So Fine" parallel (with the exception of the beat) is actually an inversion of the melody and lyrically places Cosmo, the singer, under the overbearing, ever lovin' gaze of his girlfriend: "Every step I take/Every rule I break/ Every slip I fake, girl/ Heard you watching me/ So here I am in your hands/ Taking a hell of a chance/ Do you know how it feels?"
Against the happy music and lilting melody, especially on the chorus, he sings the sentiment of many men in love - that such love is flattering, exciting, stifling, nerve- wracking, but sweet love none the less. How come movies don't tell this as well as this four minute song?
Through the disk there is an ever-present churning, the groove of the band, bubbling along like a thick stew of dub bass, drums, percussion, guitar licks, off beat organ bleats and sinew counter riffs. This is most evident on "Inside My Head." The song starts with a signature 70's-reggae unison band intro, followed by an old fashioned up tempo "one drop" drum beat played with masterful, veteran precision and feel by Horsemouth Wallace, and bouncing bass by George Fullwood. Tony Chin, mainstay guitarist of the legendary Studio One back up band, the Roots Radics, alternates scratchy, percussive guitar licks, with short, melodic runs that dart along.
On the Jimmy Cliff all time hit "Sitting in Limbo" Jawge Hughes lays down a bed of appropriately restrained gospel chords, over Wallace's beat played on Rasta maroon drums - bass drums and funda - and trap set. More than providing accompaniment and playing the chords, these musicians create the atmosphere that frames Cosmo's classic reggae voice and music. His old school approach would have fallen short had he not had the hand-of-God good fortune find a dream team of classic reggae musicians.
How did he hook up with such reggae luminaries like Leroy Wallace, George Fullwood and Tony Chin? "A mutual friend, John Bent, who's been behind the scenes in reggae for years, introduced me to Fully Fullwood and the rest is history. He felt that with my writing abilities and voice, Fully and the guys would make a perfect compliment. Clearly, I know about these players for decades. They all would be members of my All Time Reggae Band.
"Our first time in the studio was like hand in glove. It was as though we grew up with each other. The magic was so great with my first solo CD (Fire This Time) that it was natural to work with these fellows again. I just met Leroy for the first time for (this) recording. I have never met a better drummer, reggae or otherwise. His sense of time is impeccable."
A personal favorite is the last song, "Cosmo Reggae Party." This simple song, enriched by the cooking up tempo groove and the Skatalite-ish horn hits, sets the listener dancing or swaying to joyous feeling; it shows reggae in the best, perhaps truest light -as the party music of warm days in a small town on the north coast of Jamaica, in a backyard in upstate New York, in a dorm room in frozen college town in Ohio, anywhere where roots reggae has been heard and good times lived.
Check out his CD on Ginger Girl Records and his web site www.cosmomusic.com. Seen?
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