Jah Wobble

Umbra Sumus

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The strange, spiritual album that is Umbra Sumus is one of the more interesting items released in 1998. Bassist and composer Jah Wobble creates strangely compelling soundscapes that draw textures from a variety of ethnic traditions without explicitly evoking any one of them. The first cut, "Il Jevedro il Oblanco," sets the pace with a duet for what sounds like a toy music box and fuzz bass, but suddenly becomes a lush electronica-pop track as vocalist Amila Sulejmanovic begins singing in Bosnian. Elsewhere, Natacha Atlas croons in Arabic over a texture not of ouds and doumbeks, but of synthesized percussion, keyboards, and Wobble's own throbbing bass, and it sounds perfectly natural. "I Offer You Everything" blends reggae percussion, piano, and B.J. Cole's wonderful pedal steel guitar to create something that should have been a crossover pop hit. At times, Jah Wobble's music verges on art-jazz, at times electronica with melodic sound effects, and at times it is in territory that doesn't have a name because nobody else sounds quite like this. Whatever you call this music, it is interesting throughout. Though styles shift continuously, there isn't a dud track on Umbra Sumus, and it's a must-have for those who like intelligent and highly textured pop. The name of this album translates as "We Are Shadows," but many listeners will find that this music sheds welcome light on the possibilities of musical fusion.

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