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"G.R.A.S.S. On Fire" A Jazz-Fueled Take on Seminal Bob Marley Album

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Eleven Musicians of the Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Instrumentally Interpret Music from Catch a Fire

With the release of G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, G.R.A.S.S—the appropriately abbreviated Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society—have taken on the challenge of bringing the music of the legendary Bob Marley and the Wailers to an entirely new level. On G.R.A.S.S. on Fire, this collection of eleven intrepid musician/explorers “dedicated to bringing the sounds of classic Ska and Reggae to the fine people of Brooklyn and beyond," bring a jazz perspective to Marley's seminal 1973 release, Catch A Fire, instrumentally interpreting the reggae pioneer's music so that it retains all of its original passion and sincerity.

G.R.A.S.S features some of the finest players from Brooklyn's vibrant musical community, creating music with the spontaneity of jazz and a deep reverence for Jamaican rhythm. The society is made up of an ever-evolving group of players, including bassist J.A. Granelli, Nate Shaw on keyboards, Mark Miller on trombone, saxophonists Michael Blake, Ohad Talmor, and Paul Carlon, David Barnes on harmonica, Russ Meissner on drums and guitarists Tony Romano, David Bailis, and Brad Shepik.

The goal of the Society, says Granelli, who is the son of legendary drummer Jerry Granelli, “is to bring as many interesting voices to the music as possible." Nate Shaw adds, “the band is made up of jazz musicians who all share the same profound respect for the music of Jamaica. The love runs deep." G.R.A.S.S. is a mere toddler of a band—about three years old—born out of what the musicians called “big ass playdates," at which they would gather at Shaw's house, along with wives and kids, to jam and just hang out. The “Society" came out of those gatherings, as the rhythm section began to regularly focus on dissecting specific reggae songs in what Granelli calls a “free form school of rhythm."

Rather than work away at the distinctions between improvisational jazz and Reggae, when the players in G.R.A.S.S. connect, it's obvious that the two genres have vastly more in common than they have differences. “It's impossible to understand jazz fully without an understanding of African and Western European classical music, for instance," says Granelli. “Mento-ska-rocksteady-reggae-dance hall" all spring originally from those same roots, so in effect our study of jazz and other forms of American roots music led us to Jamaican music naturally."

The Society's first foray into presenting reggae in the context of an entire album was in 2009, when they performed the music from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come at The Bowery Poetry Club in New York. The concept was so well received, the players so inspired by what they'd been able to create, that they decided to capture their next effort—G.R.A.S.S. On Fire—on record. Regarding their choice of material, Granelli explains, “Catch A Fire works well for us because the Wailers were really a small, hardened basic unit at that point in their career. We spent a lot of time studying the original Jamaican versions of the songs before they were overdubbed in England, and we all felt very close to those version of the songs."

To be clear, G.R.A.S.S. on Fire is NOT a “tribute" album. Anyone who's heard Granelli's take on the 1950-era hit “Whatever Lola Wants" from Mr. Lucky's El Oh El Ay CD or on AC/DC's “Back In Black" with EZ Pour Spout (another band of which he's a member,) for example, would hardly expect a note-by-note instrumental recreation from musicians whose collective oeuvre ranges from Balkan, Turkish and African influenced jazz to avant-rock to post bop, and then some. What the CD does capture, without benefit of lyrics, is the essence, the spirit, of the music that brought Bob Marley and the Wailers, and through their major label debut, reggae music, to the wider world.

To that end, G.R.A.S.S. chose to alter the order of the songs from that on Catch A Fire, thereby making it as much a reflection of their work as a group as it is of their appreciation for Marley and the Wailers.' “We felt that G.R.A.S.S. on Fire had to hang together as an album, first and foremost," explains Granelli. “Our thing is a pretty different version of the music, so we put it in the order that worked best for what we had created. We also combine two songs ('Kinky Reggae' and 'Midnight Ravers' here meld to become 'Kinky Midnight') and added one that never made the original release ('High Tide, Low Tide') so the original order would not have worked anyway."

Still, although much of the power of Catch A Fire lays in its politically charged lyrical content, Granelli feels that none of that spirit has been lost by the instrumental interpretations on G.R.A.S.S. on Fire. “When we were working on the music, the lyrics were always a part of any decision that was made musically—a printed copy was made for everyone who played on the CD—and we tried to capture the feeling of the words, and translate them into a musical language. Instrumental music is an abstract art form, so all we can hope for is that we have imbued the music with meaning and made an emotionally artistic statement. If we have done that, the listeners will have their own experiences of what it means."

G.R.A.S.S. On Fire will be released on January 25. Bios of the Society members are available at gowanusreggae.com.

This story appears courtesy of GoMedia PR.
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