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Mad Professor
Chairman of the Mixing Board: Dub artist Mad Professor at work in the recording studio.

Mad Professor teaches a course in dub at Catalyst and Agenda

By Nicky Baxter

Musical styles come and go, but dub persists. Sure, gangs of youthful clublanders haven been taken in by techno, while others are tumbling for trip-hop, but both forms derive at least some portion of their style, if not substance, from dub, a method of manipulating prerecorded reggae material to create skeletal beats enveloped in echo or reverb. Yet, from all the press the Orb garnered a year ago, you'd think the technocrats were something new.

True students of sonics, however, know that the real progenitors of dub are Lee "Scratch" Perry and his most astute student, Mad Professor. Though less eccentric than his Jamaican counterpart, Mad Professor has helped redefine and further expand the parameters of this influential genre.

Mad Professor's own influence now approaches that of his former mentor. Deploying computers, tape loops and live performers to forge a sound both rootsy and revolutionary, the Guyanan-born, U.K.-raised musician and recording wizard began modestly enough with a four-track studio in the living room of his London flat.

Today, he is the proprietor of Ariwa Records, Britain's largest African-owned studio complex. In addition to his own output, Mad Professor (born Neil Fraser) produces a sizable stable of artists, most notably Makka B., the Twinkle Brothers and U-Roy. Despite his accomplishments, however, his musical profile in the U.S. has been minimal, due largely to the fact that so little has been written about him in the mainstream or alternative pop press here.

Dub Me Crazy

The dub artist shines on disc. He is a serial thriller, at least sub-contextually. Dub Me Crazy, for instance, is the subtitle for no less than 12 of his full-length releases; Black Liberation Dub, his current favorite designation, has already shown up four times. On the surface, his latest outings, Anti-Racist Dub Broadcast and Evolution of Dub (Black Liberation Dub Chapters Two and Three, respectively), seem virtually indistinguishable. And in fact there are many similarities, musically and, of course, conceptually.

Take a closer listen, however, and differences both subtle and transparent reveal themselves. The presence of a horn section on the latter, for instance, furnishes it with a brighter, funkier veneer than the former. "King Jimmy's Dub" is just one of many excellent instances of Mad Professor's production acumen. The horns are isolated and twisted out of shape until barely recognizable. You know that's a trombone blowing, but rarely are you afforded the chance to hear the instrument--so unconcerned with conventional expectations is the Professor.

Dub Broadcast's spoken intro features one of the most memorable one-liners uttered in ages: "You know, Mad Professor, since I heard your music, I love black people." On Chapter 3, the tone is more monochromatic. In place of horns, violins saw away ominously, while disembodied voices appear and then evaporate. Perhaps the most striking difference, at least for socially sensitive types, is the vocal presence of Jesse Jackson on Chapter 2 and Minister Louis Farrakhan's oracular skills on number three. Does this mean that the Professor teaches wild-eyed African fanaticism?

The Mad Professor appears Nov. 9 at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $9.50/$8 (408/423-1336). And Nov. 10 at the Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $8 adv. (408/287-4087)

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