Dave Noonan’s Green Island
Your Saturday Night Groove-Heavy Get Away
By CHELI MENNELLA
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This Saturday night, your groove-heavy get away is a ticket to Dave Noonan’s Green Island, a thirteen-piece ensemble that delivers a huge, textured sound and a repertoire of songs that shake the dance floor. The band is led by drummer Dave Noonan, an intuitive player with a diverse skill set, whose masterful playing is rooted in a profundity of the art and soul of drum kit.
His newest project, Green Island, grew out of his adventurous musical spirit and a love for Jamaican Jazz. And he recruited some of the area’s most talented and veteran players to help create that
sound. The current cast includes the radiant harmonies of Ras Jahn Bullock, Ian-I, Lesley Smith, and new addition Barry Fitzpatrick; a multi-layered horn section that represents alto, baritone, and soprano sax, trombone, trumpet, and flute, with players Kathryn Rapacki, Jon Weeks, Cliff White, and new addition Nick Borges; rock steady rhythm guitars by Ian-I and Barry Fitzpatrick; expressive lead guitar by virtuoso player, Dan Thomas; liquid bass by Chris Ball; stylie keys by Jay Metcalf; the banging percussion duo of Jamemurrel Stanley and El Ray Mateo; and powerhouse drummer, Dave Noonan, in the captain’s seat.
Together they form a cohesive and responsive band that is not afraid to explore new musical territory. They approach each song as an opportunity to reveal the music and its emotional essence, producing deep, organic grooves, relentless rhythms, melodic delicacies, and soul-stirring songs that move you inside and out.
The stylistically diverse repertoire features Afro-beat, Funk, and Jazz, to Reggae, Ska, and Soul. And if their last gig (at the Root Cellar, February 4) is any indication of what Saturday night’s excursion will be, then Dave Noonan’s Green Island is a soundscape destination you do not want to miss.
They performed a heavy dose of classic reggae tunes, opening with Bob Marley’s, Rastaman Chant, a hymn featuring the powerful vocals of Ras Jahn Bullock and amplified by Ian-I’s emotive refrain. The song cleanses the physical, emotional, and psychic palette and acts as a springboard – at once setting the tone for the musical journey and putting it all in motion. This makes it more than just another cover tune, but an invocation to the night.
Marley was also represented with the dance floor pleaser, Baby We Got A Date, and a hypnotic version of Running Away. Ras Jahn’s open singing paired with Noonan confidently laying down that reggae rhythm one drop was compelling, while deep bass lines capered and skipped, pulling listeners inside the tune. And the band made it their own with a breakdown turned psychedelic infused jam.
They had fun with a Wailing Souls version of the Grateful Dead tune, Casey Jones. And they turned on the lover’s rock with songs that showcased the honeyed voices of Ras Jahn, Ian-I, and Lesley Smith. Like Marley’s sensuous Turn Your Lights Down Low, and a spellbinding version of Natural Mystic.
Drum Song, Jackie Mittoo’s instrumental adaptation of an Abyssinians song, showed the ability of Green Island to deliver a full sonic experience. Heavy bass comes forward, connecting all the pieces, while the horns ply the energy, and piano runs stay true to the song’s original sound. The band took their time with this mellow, earthy groove, never rushing, letting listeners settle in, and bearing them along the musical current. They played with time, pacing, speed, and volume, teasing out tension and suspense, leading to a crushing djembe solo by Stanley. And then Noonan, understanding the language of the drum, joined the conversation, in a blistering and nuanced breakdown that left the crowd enthralled.
Ska featured prominently in the Green Island set list, with several hits from The Skatalites, such as Rockfort Rock. From the herald of the opening horns to the bass heavy hook to the driving drum and percussion grooves to the irresistible horn lines to the clear guitar licks to the unwavering bass, the song captured the audience and spun them out onto the dance floor. The galloping, invigorating rhythms of Occupation, with its unfaltering high-hats and over-the-top sax lassoed the audience in a riveting and relentless groove.
The band wove an enticing, desert feel in Ska-Ra-Van, a Skatalites version of Duke Ellington’s, Caravan. Liquid bass drew listeners inside the song and rapid-fire drums executed complicated phrasing that Noonan played with utter finesse. Together, bass and drum laid the foundation for the musicality of all the other players to come forward, until drums and percussion took the lead in a blazing jam.
Another ska tune represented with amazing versatility was Eastern Standard Time. In this fast paced, upbeat tune the band played with stamina and a forward moving trajectory that never looked back, carrying the audience away in a flurry of sound and motion.
While Green Island can seriously lay down the reggae and the ska, they also play with elegant delicacy. The lush, South African Jazz tune, Soweto, by Abdullah Ibrahim is an instrumental arrangement with a slow, quiet groove that requires restraint. The band demonstrated exquisite control with minimal interaction, making use of a range of harmonic devices to express and communicate the song, including melodic flute and gorgeous guitar lyrics.
They handled the odd time signature of Earnest Ranglin’s Memories of Senegal, with ease and endurance. And they rocked the Latin tune, Pa’ Bailar, by Bajofondo & Julieta Venega. Sung in Spanish by fluent speaker, Lesley Smith, this tune hooks with suggestive, flirty horn lines that summon you to the dance floor.
Green Island proved they can find the funk with tunes like Expo 83 by the Backyard Heavies. The steady swing of Noonan’s drumming is the backbone of his musical leviathan, at once supporting and driving the music forward. The horns send out an irresistible invitation to groove, and the piano, playing off the percussion, echoes the horns request. The tune takes numerous twists and turns, and funky lead guitar gets additional mileage. And lest you forget, the horns keep coming back to remind you of that initial invitation: to jump into the funk.
In the horn heavy funk tune Uptown Up, by Maceo Parker, the bass, drums and guitar locked into a steady groove. With support from keys and percussion, the horns soared, leading the song into a guitar solo, that shifted into a drum and percussion breakdown that built some serious booty shaking beats. In an awesome display of timed control, they brought the groove all the way down to a heartbeat and then exploded it one last time.
The striking harmonies of the vocal trio radiated out in songs like Baby, I Love You by Aretha Franklin, and funk favorite, Family Affair by Sly and the Family Stone, and in the soulful grooves of Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye. This special duet was developed by Ras Jahn and Ian-I in The Alchemystics, and brought to Green Island. Their chemistry is dynamic. Together, with Ras Jahn’s ease of range, from the soulful depths to the heart piercing highs, and Ian-I’s lingering, seductive notes, the song makes you want to pull your partner close, hip to hip, heart to heart. The delicate touch of the horns and cymbals allow the vocals to shine and flow. And then Ras Jahn, eyes closed, swaying back and forth, holding the mic tight to his chest in an old school way of singing, croons. And all the feels come pouring out. An image that will be held in utmost respect for eternity.
For Ras Jahn Bullock flew home to Zion on April 11. A reggae ambassador, he was influential in bringing reggae music and Rastafari culture to the Pioneer Valley during the 1970’s, and was personally invited to record with his band, Loose Caboose, at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica. Over the course of his musical career, by virtue of his soulful musicianship and consummate professionalism, from his bands to his recording studio Caboose2Zion to the long-running Charlemont Reggae Festival, Ras Jahn planted deep roots in the western Mass music scene and beyond. His legacy is a testament of his devotion to making music at the highest level.
Dave Noonan’s Green Island plays tribute to Ras Jahn Bullock at their upcoming performance Saturday, April 22, at the Arts Block in Greenfield. The show features a stellar line-up of veteran musicians (see below) with special guest appearances by Manou Dalomba and Kalpana Devi of Rebelle, and Jah Gerry LeBlanc. Expect to hear a repertoire of songs from diverse musical genres, including Reggae, Ska, Jamaican Jazz, Funk, Soul, Latin, Go-Go, and Afro-beat.
Show starts at 8pm. Kate Lorenz Band opens. Tickets are $8 advance/$10 door. www.theartsblock.com www.facebook.com/Dave-Noonans-Green-Island
Dave Noonan’s Green Island:
RAS JAHN BULLOCK, (Alchemystics, Loose Caboose) Voice of Zion
LESLEY SMITH, (Swamp Girl, Take 6) Vocals
IAN-I, (Alchemystics, Soultree) Vocals, Guitar
BARRY FITZPATRICK, (Rasta De Voodoo) Vocals, Guitar
JON WEEKS, (Creacion Latin Big Band) Tenor & Alto Sax
KATHRYN RAPACKI, (Fat Bradley, Mary Jane Jones) Trombone
CLIFF WHITE, (Creacion Latin Big Band) Baritone & Alto Sax
NICK BORGES, (Fat Bradley) Trumpet
DAN THOMAS, (Joystick, Miss Fairchild) Guitars
JAY METCALF, (Rhythm, Inc., Ras Spectiv) Keyboards
CHRIS BALL, (The Medicinal Purpose, Joystick) Bass Guitar
JAMEMURRELL STANLEY, (Max Creek) Percussion
EL REY MATEO, (Taproots, Alchemystics) Percussion
DAVE NOONAN, (Gaslight Tinkers, Equalites) Drums
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