Jah Wobble & The Nippon Dub Ensemble – Japanese Dub Album Review #16

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire. Max. perfect rating: 10/ A+ [sound/music]. Original review published September 2011…

Original U.K. CD (2010, April) 
30 Hertz Records Ltd 30HZCD31
Rating: 7.0/ B 
Category: Japanese Dub / Downtempo 
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k) 

Recorded @ 30 Hertz Studio, Stockport, Intimate Studios London and Parr Street Studios Liverpool.
Engineered by Paul Madden, Andrea ‘Ando’ wright, and Jah Wobble
Mastered by Jah Wobble
Produced by Jah Wobble
Arranged by [Trad.] Jah Wobble (tracks: 3 to 6, 10, 11)
Bass, Drums [Beats], Programmed by, Keyboards, by Jah Wobble
Koto, Backing Vocals, Shamisen by Keiko Kitamura
Percussion by Joji Hirota (tracks: 1, 3 to 6, 8 to 11)
Shakuhachi by Clive Bell
Vocals, Drums [Taiko] by Joji Hirota
Voice [Spoken Word] by Keiko Kitamura (tracks: 2 to 4)
Written by Jah Wobble (tracks: 1, 2, 7 to 9), Trad.
Design [cover] layout by Michelle

Having previously released the highly original 2008 Chinese Dub, ex-PIL bassist Jaw Wobble fittingly followed up two years later with Japanese Dub through his own label–30 Hertz Records. The latter should be self-explanatory to any audiophile worth his or her salt. Attention, attention: we are talking major sub region territory. Not that you necessarily need a separate subwoofer to tactilely enjoy the many rumblings of this recording; a solid big box ‘8-incher’ can get the job done, just stay away from those ‘miracle’ mini woofers.
But don’t get me wrong, Japanese Dub is not just a lame excuse to impress your fellow neighbour in seismic vibrations nor the mere relevance of a 38 foot wavelength; it is a fascinating exploration of two distinct musical and cultural heritages intertwined. Not only are the traditional instruments of each completely different in musical scales and execution, so are the natural overtone intervals and frequency spectrum distribution. Indeed the latter’s contrasting styles complementing one another, the resultant being a very wide bandwidth in frequency, melody and harmony. It is said that Wobble felt artistically restricted within the PIL ‘framework’. Somewhat surprising given the challenging experimental music they espoused, even more so for the period; we are talking about the late 1970s to early 1980s after all. Within the quartet, bassist Jah Wobble infused heavy dub on their sound, a signature trademark he still brings to his post PIL projects.
The CD is housed in a standard jewelbox comprising a sixteen page booklet mainly describing Wobble’s exploration and fusion of dub and traditional Japanese music, of which the cover illustrates the Japanese character for Ma. In part based on his prior study in traditional Chinese music, it’s an interesting read for admittedly a neophyte on the subject like myself. Instruments of interest are presented along with a respect for Japanese and Chinese culture, bringing a Zen atmosphere–and in effect Zen Buddhism is reflected upon within–to the fore. General credits can be found towards the end.
Recorded at three different studios and engineered by Paul Madden, Ando and Wobble; himself producing and mastering the album. The presentation though informative is visually bland with only a few subdued drawings printed on basic paper; the net effect being a bit disappointing. At best one could describe it as a low-key approach reflecting Zen philosophy but still, some kind of textured paper would have helped greatly.  
Japanese Dub features eleven tracks, five of which are variations of the same song–”Kokiriko”–which it seems is one of the oldest Japanese songs, dating back a thousand years ago. It’s also a percussive instrument. Mixing traditional Japanese singing, Koto (strings), Shakuhachi (flute) and Jah Wobble’s bass; the whole produces one big harmonious sound with warm treble detail balancing out the muffled bass. Tracks 4-5-10 & 11 are alternate dub versions, some tending towards a more reggae feel, while orthers truly emphasizing the dub side with ‘Roland type’ space (tape) echo in differing amounts and loop speeds.  
“Shinto Dub” opens the album with bass reaching down quite deep. Metronomic metallic percussion gives an industrial, chain-gang cadence, overlaid by an agressive sustained sinewave-type sound. At times distortion and saturated bass can be heard–in order to be sure this was not system dependant, I tested it on different tube and transistor amps, and speakers at various levels. I reserve some doubts that this was a desired creative effect; rather I suspect this is a defect given the overblown bass energy. Depending on the listener, this cited phenomenon accompanied by some compression can irritate, leading to mild listener fatigue. Conversely, when demoing only one track at a time, it can impress on certain levels.
The second track “Cherry Blossom Of My Youth” leads with female spoken word. Koto and low-fi beat box, followed by deep reaching bass establish a groove. A distorted gong contrasts with a clean Shamisen–a Japanese three stringed instrument. Moving on to “Hokkai Bon Uta”; vocals, Shakuhachi combined with backing vocals is very special; you can feel the sense of sadness.
“Ma” starts with solo Shakuhachi. One can perceive the vast recording space, for which “Ma” represents the sense between notes, the interval, the emptiness where “lies infinite compassion”. The bass making it’s appearance later on, accompanied by an electro rhythm–phaser processed–borrows from early Kraftwerk. Again ‘Roland type’ space echo box is exploited. Quite original.      
“Taiko Dub” is the heaviest track with weighty panned Taiko drums, gong and distorted sustained lows. 
But close on the heels is “Mishima /Kurosawa”; it displays a very well captured flute with a background resembling an open field or jungle. In addition, spoken word and Jurassic pounding Taiko drums hammering away create an eerie ambience.                                        
With Japanese Dub, musician Jah Wobble demonstrates once again the ongoing musical journey continues; persuing and discovering new avenues that the godfathers of dub could never have imagined.