Jah Wobble

Chinese Dub

Songlines – January/Februarty 2009

WOMAD’s conversation piece this year occurred at the 11th hour, when Jah Wobble’s dazzling, circus-like Chinese Dub Orchestra left us spellbound. As the musicians packed up a guzheng zither, Jew’s harp electric guitar, classical flute and Chinese percussion, Wobble unplugged the bass which had subtly driven the performance.

Wobble is one of world music’s most intelligently eclectic mavericks. He swapped the Invaders of the Heart for this project, but never abandons his passion for dub-reggae. His basslines – melodic, stomping and dub-echoey – accompany music more Chinese than dub but even on ‘ L1 Dub‘ and ‘L1’, where the boat is pushed closest to Jamaica, Zi Lan Liao’s tangy guzheng-picking complements the electric guitar’s stark 1960s twang. The two singers with Mongolian and Tibetan backgrounds bring vocal riches without any off-putting shrillness. ‘Walking the Horse‘ and ‘Horse Mountain Song’ are sung by Gu Yinji, evoking the Mongolian plains, and Wang Jingqi’s richer voice, on ‘Happy Tibetan Girl‘ is a rivaling high point. In ‘Yellow Mountain‘ (and its dub version), Clive Bell’s classical flute paints Chinese landscapes as Wobble and Zi maintain a fugue-like dance around the zither’s ice-crisp melodies. Has the wandering bass player found his home? *****

Sue Steward

Record Collector – January 2009

Fascinating collusion of East, West and down-deep dub. This could well be one of the greatest things to have come out of Liverpool’s status as Capital of Culture 2008. Wobble’s commissioned collaboration with a selection of handpicked traditional Chinese musicians came to a wonderful blossoming conclusion with a series of gigs that blended Chinese music with his own hefty dub leanings. This album is the beautiful extrapolation of those unique moments.

The whole thing is fantastic from start to finish but try the traditional Dragon & Phoenix, complete with Eastern instrumentation and a big, big bassline underneath, for a masterclass in not just melding two very diverse cultural and musical developments, but also somehow showing that despite (or because of) the disparity, there’s way, way more in common than you might at first think. Elsewhere, L2 Dub is a splendid piece of Wobblism and Horse Mountain Song, another traditional, is given a tender and tremendous makeover.This is an album and a project that tells many stories: of its creation, of the weight of history behind the project, the tales of the songs themselves. Culture can have a capital way beyond geographical and stylistic boundaries, and music of this caliber is a rich, eloquent and wonderful expression thereof. *****

Joe Shooman

fRoots Magazine – December 2008

Jah Wobble’s monolithic basslines have been the cornerstone of all kinds of global and electronic musical exploration for night on two decades now. But this is the first new recording I’ve heard from him for some while. The title lets you know what’s in store. Wobble’s wife is the guzheng (Chinese zither) player Zi Lan Liao, his father-in-law runs Liverpool’s Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra and this recording came out of a collaboration between Wobble’s band and the Orchestra, as part of this year’s Liverpool Capital Of Culture celebrations. The PCYO only feature on a couple of tracks here, with remainder featuring Wobble’s regular musicians and Zi Lan Liao, plus four contributions from Chinese vocalists. The result is slow to start, only really kicking into gear with the fourth track Solitude, which highlights some lovely melodic playing from Zi Lan, but from then on I was captivated. Kang Ding Love Song is dub heavy and showcases the excellent voice of Gu Yinji. L1 features both the toughest beats and sweetest playing. Easily the best thing I’ve heard from Wobble since his Invaders Of The Heart heyday.

Jamie Renton

The Observer – January 2009

The 20-strong troupe of Chinese musicians and dancers assembled and toured by bass supremo Wobble was one of 2008’s highlights, a more supple fusion of east and west than Damon Albarn’s Monkey. Even without the spectacular stage visuals, it’s a powerful work, sliding from a slow, atmospheric opening into cascades of zither and ricocheting vocals on L1 Dub and Happy Tibetan Girl. The melodies and glistening female voices are traditional – Cantonese, Mongolian – but the music is of the here and now, underpinned by Wobble’s agile, reggaematic pulse. His prolific, varied output has made him a hard man to place, but here the punk wars survivor has produced something special.

Neil Spencer

Mojo – February 2009

The 30th release on Wob’s own label looks for influences in the East and his own domestic life.
Though not as astonishing as the Dub orchestra’s live shows (mask-changing dancers have to be seen to be truly unbelievable), Wobble’s latest is still a head-spinning experience. It begins quietly, setting the scene a la Shivkumar Shumar’s Call of The Valley LP, and it’s not until the singer Gu Yinji and Wobble’s wife, the guzheng player Zi Lan Liao, appear on the third and fourth tracks that you get a sense of what might be happening. A couple of tunes later, Happy Tibetan Girl pitches you deep into a maelstrom of dub effects. What might have been a novelty purchase suddenly snaps into a brutal hijacking of the senses that demands to be listened to intently. If 2008 was the first time Far Eastern music (Monkey, Sa Dingding, Denue Fever, Onra) made credible inroads towards rock territory, here is the benchmark. Try topping this, somebody.

David Hutcheon

The Observer Music Monthly – January 2009

A jaw-dropping performance by Wobble’s Chinese troupe was the scene stealer at 2008’s Womad. The accompanying studio album, a fusion of Chinese tradition with Wobble’s loping bass, is seamless – a mix of stately atmospherics and dub shot through with vocals and dazzling zither playing from Zi Lan Liao (Wobble’s wife). Trailblazing stuff.

Neil Spencer

The Guardian – 16th January 2009

Jah Wobble is one of the great English originals. Thirty years ago, his rumbling bass-playing defined the sound of Public Image Limited, and since then he has used his love for dub reggae to transform anything from avant-garde jazz-rock to English folk songs. Now, influenced by his wife, Zi Lan Liao, an exponent of the guzheng (Chinese zither), he has turned his attention to far eastern styles, with startling results. This album is a brave experiment in east-west fusion; yet it’s also a typical Wobble album, thanks to that distinctive bass work and echoing dub effects, and the refreshingly rough-and-ready production. It starts with a perhaps overlong wash of effects against the tinkling of Chinese instruments. Then the British and Chinese musicians hit their stride. On the bluesy and lyrical Yellow Horse Mountain, Wobble eases back to provide a gently insistent bass riff, matched by a rousing workout form the strings, flute and pipes. He’s still in a class of his own. ****

Robin Denselow

Fly Global Music Culture – 6th December 2008

clectic former PiL bass man Jah Wobble teams up with wife Zi Lan Liao to produce his best post-Invaders of the Heart album yet, a dubby yang to the yin of Damon Albarn’s Journey to the West Chinese opera

Chinese Dub does exactly what it says on the tin, although the listener has to wait till the album is five tracks in before hearing that familiar Wobble bass rumble and (not so heavy this time) reggae dub sound, encasing a mellifluous mix of guzheng (Chinese zither), flute, pipes and various liquid keyboard arrangements and contributions from two excellent female Chinese vocalists (Wang Jinqi and Gu Yinji). Prior to that, we are treated to a spacey, atmospheric overture that has little real bearing on the sharp, sweet and sexy mix of Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian folk melodies and modern beats to come.

The accent is definitively Chinese (there are excellent contributions from Liverpool’s Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra), with Wobble and his regular band restrained in their framing of the Eastern elements, a carefully honed appreciation of the roots of the mix inherent in every arrangement.

Wobble toured the full orchestra in the summer of 2008, with the band’s performance at WOMAD generally considered to be one of the highlights (and surprises) of the festival, and it’s worth buying (rather than downloading) the album for the full story of how Wobble (and family: his father-in-law and sons also play a part) developed this fascinating collaboration between Eastern and Western cultures.

Con Murphy

Total Music Magazine

If Jah Wobble was given the major label support and budget offered to, oh I dunno, let’s say Damon Albarn, the ex east-end ne’er do well, PiL bass monster and World Music champion would be seriously more high profile than he currently is (not entirely sure he’s that bothered by that fact mind), with a string of excellent albums, and numerous successful musical experiments, to his name Wobble is probably the most open-minded, adventurous musician the UK has ever produced. So how does Chinese Dub work then? Bloody brilliantly actually, impossible to describe other than it sounds exactly like the title and you need to hear it.

Drew Bass

Uncut – January 2009

Multi-cultural mash-up from ex-PiL bassist
A William Blake obsessive who got his name from Sid Vicious; the sonic architect of PiL’s Metal Box who ended up driving a tube train, the Renaissance man who could happily spend an afternoon rummaging in Halfords – Jah Wobble has always been a mass of contradictions. An off-shoot from an Anglo-Chinese event arranged as part of Liverpool’s Capital Of Culture celebrations, Chinese Dub sees Wobble’s wife Zi Lan Liao, provide zither-like accompaniment on a guzheng while Tibetan/Mongolian signer Gu YinJi warbles over trademark dub rhythms. The result makes Damon Albarn sound as experimental as Noel Gallagher.

Nigel Williamson

Metro – 6th February 2009

Since their live sets stormed festivals in 2008, Jah Wobbles’ latest project, The Chinese Dub Orchestra, has been attracting a lot of interest. Venerable punk bassist/composer Wobble has always had a keen ear for global sounds, and on Chinese Dub he really throws his heart and soul into this extensive ensemble, which includes his talented wife Zi Lan Liao on the guzheng, vocalist Gu Yinji singing in Mongolian and Tibetan, and the Liverpool – based Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra.

Chinese Dub couldn’t really be described as a soundclash: there’s an impressively sensitive approach to the blend of traditional arrangements and original compositions, though there’s also a tangible thrill in the way that tracks such as L1 Dub and Dragon And Phoenix, move between Far Eastern and Western influences, entwining instruments such as bamboo flute and horse-head fiddle with deliciously deep grooves. The recording doesn’t quite harness the giddy thrill of the Chinese Dub Orchestra’s performances, with their ‘mask-changing; dancers, but it’s a delight nonetheless, presided over by a very persuasive visionary and all-round diamond geezer.

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