Lee Scratch Perry: Rise Again

Rise Again

Lee Scratch Perry + Bill Laswell = a collaboration written in eons-old starlight. The pioneering Jamaican producer and shamanistic bassist have been approaching dub from different directions—one from the past, the other from the future—and at last meet in the here and now. Tunde Adebimpe, Gigi Shibabaw, and Hawkman throw their vocal legumes into this vegetarian stew, while Bernie Worrell (keyboards), Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax and flute), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), Josh Werner (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums) extend their bodies toward an overlapping dimension in which to sing.

As a unit, these musicians render the studio a portal of insight into the human condition, crafting art as an effigy to be burned in offering. Only they can see the glyphs written in every trail of ganja smoke, swirling and separating into runways for alien landings. This revisionist history of life unfolds like a book not only bound in but also written on skin, burnished by hands whose shapes are much unlike our own. Instead of fingers: attracting forces. Instead of wrists: only skies, cocked to the angle of the sun’s passage at any given moment throughout the day. The compass is strong with this one, for its seeking is bound to the realm of the dead, if scrutinized only by the living.

Perry is a griot on stilts. He drops his beats and words from a higher place. In the rain of his exhalation, one feels a lifetime of atmospheres at play. From autobiography and politics to godliness and metaphysics, his themes interlock across vast spatial and temporal expanses, but always in service of the utterance in real time. It all begins in the narrative impulse of “Higher Level.” With animal wanderlust and anti-parasitic skin, Perry charts a course through this world of hunters and sinners, following ley lines along which Rastafarian secrets, scriptural wisdom, and the esotery of personal experience share borders.

In “Scratch Message,” Werner takes a ride in the captain’s chair, navigating this vessel with religious deference. It is a stroll through the valley of life, in which the waters of tolerance have run dry, yet where the footprints of many travelers before have laid a path of resistance. It is this which Perry follows beyond the oceans of his island and straight into the heart of “African Revolution.” This call of arms to rid the world of arms is a protest in the name of salvation. It bows to the same goddess of groove who in “Butterfly” dons a crown of blessings.

Though the peace cultivated by this crowd may be far from the madding others, Perry’s knowledge of the spider’s web runs deep. In both “Wake The Dead” and “E.T.” he gives listeners a private tour of conspiracy, flushing out toxins of ignorance with nutrients of awareness. The latter tune is especially reminiscent of Laswell’s Sacred System project, an early dub transmission from 1996 that still ripples across these waters. Through the governmental sacrament of blood and fire, he sharpens the blade honed by Perry decades before, now polished by millennia of intergalactic breeding and glinting in the bonfire of oppression.

Perry’s refusal to be pinned down by the weight of elitism comes from being supported and pushed ever upward by the hands of his ancestors. And in the songs “Orthodox” and “House Of God,” the former gilded by Shibabaw’s golden throat, he attunes his vibrational frequency to the rhythms of prayer. Laswell’s bass drops head and heart into poetic comportment, as Shibabaw gives her all to the inner science of these readings, singing with the knowledge that stillness is just an illusion resulting from perfect equilibrium between rising and falling.

Turning the kaleidoscope again, Perry shows us his whimsy, rapping through the televisual brilliance of “Dancehall Kung Fu” and spinning the roulette to land finally on “Inakaya (Japanese Food).” On the surface an ode to cuisine but in actuality a blood pact shared between two pricked geographic fingertips, it is an ice cube on the forehead in summer.

If you want to know where dub is heading, you must understand where it has come from. And on Rise Again, we get both in one circle. But let there be no talk of masterpiece, for Perry is a master, whole.

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