May 29, 2012

Catch Son Raw in Cuba, polying with Assata.

Mala isn’t just respected in the Dubstep scene, he’s revered with the same wide-eyed adoration bestowed on Dilla by beat heads and Eric Clapton by old white people. This near deification isn’t unwarranted given  the Digital Mystik’s genre transforming early singles but it can be a tad confusing for those out of the loop given that he’s never released a full album in a digital format. His forthcoming release for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood recordings may well change that… but with a twist – it was recorded in Havana with the help of local Afro-jazz musicians. For an artist whose work is so heavily steeped in Jamaican sound-system culture, that’s the kind of tectonic shift that can totally transform what had been evolving into an established if beloved formula.

Some earlier Mala tracks such as Anti War Dub and Alicia were wrapped in the warm jazzy glow most often associated with “serious” black music but they always countered any easy positivity with a dread-inducing darkness made for dark London basements. With that in mind, the opening to Calle-F can initially seem off-putting – are those cod-latin piano stabs necessary? Thankfully, that’s just the warm up and the track rapidly shifts to the kind of deep, soulful groove groove that might have been called Neo-Soul a decade ago, only augmented by high-powered percussion and rumbling sub-bass. It’s an interesting fusion with sax runs floating in and out of the mix and the groove charging-on for what one hopes will be forever. It makes sense that this project would be spearheaded by Peterson whose West-London sophistication have always balanced out London’s nuttier, ravier side but thankfully, what this track may lack in over-the-top energy, it makes up for through masterful production and composition. In genre currently best known for transformers noises and awful white dudes, that’s not a bad thing.

Next up – Get the man in the studio with Mos Def. Or Stevie Wonder.

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