Small Axe People


The Small Axe People – Skank to Skank (SAP, 2010)

The Small Axe People have become known for exploring the subtleties of Jamaican music dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This time around the focus is firmly on the halting and subtly funky sound of skank. To get an idea of the music in question think of the Wailers' ‘Duppy Conqueror', Eric Donaldson's ‘Cherry Oh Baby' or even Niney's dread-filled ‘Blood & Fire'. Of course the difference here is the sounds are not created by choppy electric guitars and looping basses but rather electronic instrumentation – with keyboard providing the bridge between the old and the new. Still the feel and nuances of the skank sound are everywhere on this release. The echoing and flowing keyboard on ‘Kilimanjaro' is particularly striking – as is ‘Idren' which features a variation on the same theme. Both songs, while being catchy, have an almost melancholy sense about them. The haunting qualities of Augustus Pablo come to mind on the dub-like ‘Shango' and an intriguing bass-heavy sound keyboard is at the fore of ‘In-Swinger'. This is not to suggest that there are not upbeat numbers on ‘Skank to Skank'. Songs such as ‘Jubilation' and ‘4-2-4' sound playful and light-hearted. Once again the Small Axe People can be heard using the sounds of the Jamaica's past to suggest a way forward. This is yet another release which demonstrates just how rich and influential the early reggae period was … and is.


Jim Dooley


Small Axe People – ‘Creation’ Small Axe People - (2008)

‘Creation’ is a particularly appropriate title for the new Small Axe People release. This CD is a trip through both the micro and macro aspects of musical space and marks a distinctly new direction for the London-based team. While retaining the minimal aspects of version, ‘Creation’ veers into darkened and brooding musical areas currently being explored by such artists as Rhythm & Sound, kode9 and Burial. This is particularly evident in the incredibly intense and menacing sound of the bass lines – which in their sheer bone-rattling density are reminiscent of the work of Flabba Holt. In addition, the CD occasionally brings to mind the production techniques of Errol Thompson – particularly when oscillating synthesizer notes go unexpectedly panning across the soundscape. ‘Creation’ is complemented by a flowchart on the inner sleeve which traces the now forty year old Small Axe trajectory – a rich history that includes writing and publishing as well as music making. This CD is still more evidence of the ongoing Small Axe quest to explore the space of music in a multitude of dimensions. ‘Creation’ is an interesting and engaging leap into yet another otherworldly time and place.

Jim Dooley


Small Axe People – ‘Generation Version’ - Small Axe People

‘Generation Version’ marks yet another new release from the prolific Small Axe People. While last year’s ‘The Wildest Version’ may have dabbled in TV and film sci-fi themes, this CD marks a return to a sound more overtly influenced by the likes of Augustus Pablo, Glen Adams and Lloyd Charmers. However, this time around the skanking and bubbling sound of the Now Generation band is also clearly in the mix. Not an easy trick given that there are no overt guitar sounds on this CD. In Small Axe tradition the songs remain very minimal – there is not even a fragment of vocal on this release. What the sound does have is a hypnotic sense of mystery which is built up via subtle variation. Other songs such as the piano-driven ‘Deh’ are more playful and bouncy. This is the bare-bones type of music that supplies open spaces and thus allows listeners to either enjoy it as is or imagine potential augmentations or remixes (there is already a dub companion CD released under the title ‘Area X – Dub One’). As with previous Small Axe People productions the sound of ‘Generation Version’ seems to be simultaneously looking backwards and forwards.

Jim Dooley

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From Creation

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Original Version

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Version Wise

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Jazzbo T at The Controls

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Once Upon A Version

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A Portion Of Version

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