Neil Sparkes

Burning Mask

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Neil Sparkes, a mainstay of the legendary Transglobal Underground and co-founder, with that group's Count Dubulah, of Temple of Sound, makes his solo bow with this fascinating and richly textured recording, which seems to bring together every musical tradition that has ever influenced him and stir them all together into a thick stew of heavyweight beats and dubwise production strategies. The recurring musical themes are those of reggae and Cuban percussion; the political purpose of the latter is made clear in a tendentious Stephen Wilkinson essay in the liner notes, but it's easy enough to ignore the politics and simply bask in the glow of the percolating rhythms and spacious ambience. The sinuous, jazzy groove of "The Sun Also Rises" bumps up nicely against the splashy King Tubby/Black Ark ambience of "Touch a Body"; the dreamy drum'n'bass of "Tropic of Zero" is sandwiched, unfortunately, between the dreary title track and the even worse "While the City Sleeps," but the album ends on a high point with a handful of gems, including a congas-and-loops extravaganza titled "Heart of Congo" and a brilliant dubwise reprise of the album's opening track. Try to ignore the fact that the album is intended as a celebration of a modern police state and you'll have a great time.

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