Record Review: Jef Stott – Arcana (2012, Six Degrees Records)

Between oriental medinas and the breeze of a desert morning at Burning Man festival, Jef Stott unleashes his version of pan-ethnic bass fusion. Dance-prone at times, meditative at others – majestic at most.

Genre: Rootstep / World Fusion / Global Bass

Region: San Francisco, California, USA

Artists Website: http://jefstott.com/

Label: Six Degrees Records

The nexus between dub, electronic and ethnic music has been explored by a considerable number of artists. However, these attempts have not received the exposure they deserve apart from some notable exceptions. With the rise of dubstep and bass music in general the earlier electronic, dub and world fusions have undergone some change towards heavier basslines.

Jeff Stott, a veteran producer with more than a decade of involvement in world fusion, offers his new, 10th album ‘Arcana’, which is a prime example of contemporary ‘Rootstep’.

His approach is multi-cultural or pan-ethnic, putting bits and pieces of electronic and ethnic music from different parts of the world together into an interlocked body of music where its individual parts cannot be easily pulled out and decoded. Nevertheless, major points of reference are MENA (Middle East and North Africa) music, South Asia, downtempo and dubstep.

Complexity and experimentation are not Jeff Stott’s primary focus in this album, his focus is rather directed mostly on perceptibility, danceability and groove. He is primarily trying to twitch a global music-body language for people to move and travel.

Download ‘Deep Playa’, the first song of Jef Stott’s ‘Arcana’ album:

‘Arcana’ is not a mono-dimensional lump of dance songs; there is enough variety to keep up with the listener’s attention. Employing a vast array of instruments played by himself (oud, darbuka, bass, keys, guitars and dulcimer among others) as well as a host of guest vocalists and musicians, ‘Arcana’ celebrates as much diversity as rich instrumentation.

Album’s opener ‘Deep Playa’ (referring to Burning Man’s increasingly crowded festival playa), one of the strongest numbers of the set features also Sonja Drakulich, Jeff’s long-time collaborator (since ‘Stellamara’ albums). Crunchy dubstep-esque wobbles merge with Drakulich’s ethereal voice, ney (courtesy of Eliyahu Sills) and strings. Deep Playa transmits a light and optimistic vibe.

The Promise’ features more complex percussion patterns with tabla and an inescapable Indian vibe. ‘Le Club Lebanon’ is the most oriental and dancefloor-oriented track with Tunisian crossover vocalist MC Rai skillful singing.

Desert Dub’ is indeed, as the title implies, the most dubby moment of the album. With oud strings resonating, slow hypnotic pace. Deep atmospherics and a playful, thick bassline. Dub is prominent in other songs as well, as the mind-healing frequencies of Sayat Nova (titled after the name of an influential Armenian poet and musician poet).

Hero’s Return’ is a fine instrumental electronic track with flutes and dulcimer that reaches ecstatic peaks arranged with experience and maturity.

Pulling Off The Tide’ is maybe the most ambitious track on ‘Arcana’ and the most divergent from Jef Stott’s back catalog. It marks his first collaboration with San Francisco-based indie singer Sophia Mae Lin and his first attempt in more neo-classical, celtic themes. The result is not disappointing, but maybe more pop-oriented and less gothic than intented. More interesting is ‘Gnawa Jam’, a playful jam homage to gnawa music with berber riddims and the characteristic galloping of garagab castanets.

For the end ‘White Tara’ is totally chill-out and meditative, a blessing soothing musical vibe to approach as accurately as possible the charitable Tantric goddess.

‘Arcana’ is multi-faceted and arranged with generosity in instrumentation. It is another gem in the crown of emerging, bass-driven ‘new world music’ or ‘Rootstep’. The sound of Arcana could be paralleled with Adham Shaikh’s recent records or Sufi-dubber’s Celt Islam’s discography. Although not as catchy as Celt Islam’s ‘Baghdad’ which came out earlier this year, it is more organic and richly instrumented. Jef Stott could be more prudent though with the extensive use of trite dubstep tricks (which are notably much more than in his 2008 album ‘Saracen’) which are heard everywhere these days and are saturating the songs at times.

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Check more artists from the Rootstep / Global Bass movement via Freegan Kolektiva:

Celt Islam – Baghdad (2012, Ajnavision records)

Novalima – Karimba (2012, ESL Music)

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