After ten years of appreciating the half-speed ska sound of rocksteady reggae, San Francisco resident Romanowski has decided it's time for the world to hear his individual take on the genre. Enter the "Steady Rocking Inna Jamaican Stylee" mini album...
Best known for having played alongside DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist at the original Future Primitive Sound Session (the first Shadow/Chemist "Brainfreeze" performance), the Zurich-born painter/musician has been part of the 'Frisco music scene for more than a decade. For him, this project is both the realisation of a long-standing ambition and the opportunity to pay homage to the music of artists he's found inspirational.
The five pictures of Romanowski sporting Mickey Mouse ears on the record's cover should suggest to even the least observant that 'playful' is one characteristic that could be attributed to both the man and his music. "Jamalski vs My Answering Phone" starts the mini-album off in this vein as a skit of nonsensical faux-Jamaican drawl before the slow-stepping reggae bass of "Flat Picker" begins and Romanowski's rocksteady ambitions truly commence.
"Why?" is the track that best sums up the "Steady Rocking..." aesthetic; Romanowski provides the reggae backdrop, a rhythmically-flickering guitar and soundbites such as "This is my musical attack!", and Jacko Peake lends instrumental support with improv-sounding flute and sax solos. This easy-going combination of efforts is replicated on both "Flat Picker" and "Romjack Steady" – the first enlisting Jan Whitefield (of Poets of Rhythm)'s subtle guitar and the second relying again on Jacko Peake although this time with more emphasis on the flute than the sax-heavy "Why?"
The other two 'pure' (for want of a better word) tracks – "Chalice" and "Speaking Of" – make up for the deficit of guest musicians with vocal samples. "Chalice" uses a typically-Caribbean sounding two line sample over a marching reggae beat while an echoed female singing voice makes "Speaking Of Happiness" sound vaguely reminiscent of early Massive Attack.
The mini-album closes out with three dub remixes; the best being J Boogie's Dubtronic Dub of "Romjack Steady" which gives the original a heavier bass-line and additional drum programming that at times sounds as if it might break into drum & bass and at others stutters and shakes in a Shadow-esque manner. The other two remixes rework Romanowski's originals in a more subtle manner, at times sounding more like different sessions of the former tracks than all-out remixes.
Romanowski has succeeded in realising his rocksteady dreams by making a short album that respects the classical elements of reggae and dub and at the same time embraces his own musical vision. The resulting mix works on a laid-back level of plodding beats and bass, but also includes moments of beautifully simple instrumentation for those interested enough to listen carefully. The "Inna Jamaican Stylee" part of the title may not be strictly accurate given Romanowski's Swiss origins and current Californian dwellings but putting that aside, this album rocks steadily. As you might expect.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10
Originally posted: February 3, 2004