You might not associate the trombone with the classic dub reggae sounds of Lee “Scratch” Perry, King Tubby, and Scientist. Super Hi-Fi, the Brooklyn-based ‘Afro-Dub’ band led by songwriter-producer-bassist Ezra Gale, is about to change that. Dub To The Bone, the band’s debut album, uses not one but two trombones to create sonic tapestries drenched in the warmth of analog tape. “Trombones are like violas,” says Gale. “They’ve always been under-appreciated instruments and even the butt of a lot of band jokes. But when you blend the tones of two trombones with the space of dub you get a deep, full sound that is both soothing and striking.”
The album’s imagery is as striking as the music. The album cover- an antique-looking photo of a trombone on a chair in front of a massive stack of speakers- conjures the modern-retro vibe that embodies Super Hi-Fi. Gale elaborates, “The cover art and design reflects the music by using vintage/antique/analog media to express new content. Kevin Irby, using his 1908 camera, took the photos from the album shoot. The stack of speakers in the background belong to my friend Quoc Pham from the Sound Liberation Front. They’re this gigantic tower of soundsystem speakers he’s been building himself over the last year.”
Pham’s house was not only the location of the photo shoot, but also the birthplace of Super Hi-Fi back in 2010, when Pham asked Gale to put a band together for a house party. The pair’s production company, the Sound Liberation Front, then hosted the popular “Afro-Dub Sessions” monthly party at the now-defunct Rose Live Music venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The gathering featured Super Hi-Fi as the house band joined by an array of top-flight DJ’s and producers- some of whom, like Victor Rice, Subatomic Sound System, and the Beverley Road All-Stars- are featured with remixes on Dub To The Bone. That party’s mix of African and Jamaican sounds is reflected in the band’s name, with “super” a popular word for African bands and “Hi-Fi” representing Jamaican soundsystem culture.
African music and specifically Afrobeat is no stranger to Gale, who founded and released four critically-acclaimed albums with his band Aphrodesia that were rooted in traditional Afrobeat (with such high reverence that the band traveled to Nigeria and played at Femi Kuti’s Shrine), but with a modern signature sound that was all their own. Similar to Aphrodesia, Super Hi-Fi respects the influence and legends of Dub music greats, but adds their own unique take. Recorded onto analog tape by noted dub engineer Prince Polo, the classic dub sound shines through with the use of vintage tape delays like the Echoplex, the Space Echo and others, but the music, all composed by Gale, is new. Dub To The Bone mixes original tracks with remixes, reflecting the malleable nature of dub. “Dub music is all about re-forming original recordings into something different,” says Gale, “so the remixes here have their own identity and can stand on their own.”
Even on the remixes though, it’s the sound of Super Hi-Fi that defines Dub To The Bone. Gale, a longtime Bay Area resident, moved back home to New York City in 2009, and the city’s swirling influences have soaked into his songwriting. “Sometimes I’ll record an idea and just ride the subway listening to it as a soundtrack” he says. “Things bump and bleed into each other more here and you can see and feel it in the art and the music.” The musicians he formed Super Hi-Fi with reflect the city’s varied sway. Trombonist Alex Asher leads the afro-rock People’s Champs and also appeared on Beyonce’s last album 4, trombonist Ryan Snow plays with rising soul stars Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, guitarist Will Graefe lends his twang to Miss Tess and the Talkbacks and drummer Madhu Siddappa holds things down for longtime Brooklyn dub explorers Dub Is A Weapon. The studio album also includes Adam Dotson of Rubblebucket on trombone on “Washingtonian,” percussionist Foluso Mimy of the Mandingo Ambassadors on “Tri Tro Tro ” and Todd Perlmutter from the Blue Man Group playing drums on the “Single Player” and “Q Street” remixes alongside Gale’s Aphrodesia bandmate Chris Mulhauser on guitar.
Super Hi-Fi previously released two successful 45 rpm singles- the original versions of “Single Payer” and “We Will Begin Again”- on Electric Cowbell Records. Dub To The Bone, which will be released only as a vinyl record and digital download, culminates a relationship Gale says began even before his band released anything on the label. A self-described “record hound,” Gale says he noticed the label while record hunting and resolved to meet whoever was behind it. “I started noticing that literally every 45 that said ‘Electric Cowbell’ on it was awesome, it was exactly the kind of music I like” he says. Eventually the fertile Brooklyn music scene led to Super Hi-Fi crossing paths with label owner Jimmy Thomson’s CSC Funk Band, and the rest, you can say, is history. Dub To Bone comes out on December 4, 2012.