Live Joint, the debut album from the notorious High Times Cannabis Cup Band, was released by High Times Records on February 11. A wicked compendium of reggae, hip-hop, ska and rock tracks recorded live in New York, Amsterdam and Oregon, Live Joint features an all-star lineup of New York’s best dancehall musicians.
Since emerging in 1996 as the High Times Cannabis Cup house band, the CCB has been tearing up the underground New York reggae scene with sold-out performances, many of which -- recorded in the wee hours of the morning -- are offered here for the first time. The CCB retains the core members of Elektra artists Skadanks, which, fronted by Rocker T, ruled NYC dancehalls through the early ’90s. The group’s ability to play a wide variety of idioms, an inspired group of special guests, and their celebration of herban life and music have earned CCB legions of inspired local fans, headline status at Boston’s Freedom Rally and the Seattle Hempfest, and gigs backing diverse artists ranging from Rita Marley to George Clinton. The band's annual Bob Marley Birthday Tribute show, now at BB King's in Times Square, has sold out every year since its inception in 1997.
Live Joint’s 12 tracks offer a mix of originals (Rocker T’s “Just to Be Alive”) and covers of classic marijuana anthems (Black Uhuru’s “Sinsemilla”), sung by no less than six vocalists. Introduced by Leaders of the New School MC Charlie Brown, who also expertly freestyles the funky “I Get Lifted,” the disc covers a surprising gamut of styles.
“Tru Ganjaman” Rocker T sings and chats lead on five tracks, which include Skadanks’ ragamuffin chant “Pass the Herb.” The recent ascendance of T’s own group, the IRT Band, is sure to bring attention to this effort. His newest album, More Luv, follows If Yu Luv Luv Show Ya Luv and the Tru Ganjaman 12” EP, whose legendary cover shot of Rocker T was featured beside Ice Cube in Next Friday.
Judah Eskender Tafari, a polished singer who shared the Jamaican stage with Bob Marley and has many Studio One hits to his credit, provides additional vocals with stellar guitarist Junior Jazz, whose Live Joint rendition of Marley’s “Heathen” stands on its own. Tafari’s latest solo album, The Builder, received an exceptional review in The Beat, which proclaimed it “superior in every way,” while Junior’s recent VP album My Turn garnered heavy rotation and four Tamika award nominations. One of reggae’s most sought-after sidemen, with tours with Diana King, Beres Hammond, Gregory Isaacs and Judy Mowatt to his credit, Jazz brings tremendous skill to the medley, “Fussing and Fighting/On Broadway.” Live Joint’s explosive rock track, “Superstar,” is sung by diva Kimona 117, whose ferocious delivery complements the searing guitar solo. Edison Archer and Mister Rhee round out CCB’s background vocals.
The core rhythm section of the CCB includes some of reggae’s most in-demand players. Bandleader and former Dennis Brown keyboardist Ricky T, Maxi Priest guitarist extraordinaire Joe “JJ” Sansaverino, and veteran guitarist and singer Donovan McKitty continue to play internationally with a long “A” list of Jamaican artists, including Freddie McGregor, Tony Rebel and Marcia Griffiths. Bassist Alex Valenti has toured with Queen Latifah and Nigerian star Majek Fashek, and regularly gigs with dancehall don Super Cat. Drummer G. Moses backs Rocker T in the IRT Band and Judah Eskender Tafari in his solo project, Players of Instruments, and has toured with Shinehead. Percussionist Josh Tepperberg continues to play with some of NYC’s finest and adds spice to Live Joint’s diverse rhythms.
Live Joint’s special guests add the icing. Kevin B. sings Sugar Minott’s classic “D.C.” and flashes his trumpet with saxophonist Jerry Johnson, both veterans of numerous world tours with Steel Pulse, Big Mountain and others. Kevin and Jerry form the formidable CCB horn section, augmented by phenomenal Sting trombonist Clark Gayton and Brazilian saxophone star ZÃ© Luis Oliveira.
The message of the CCB is clear: It’s a party, but remember to Get Up, Stand Up for your rights.