Review : The Herbaliser - Herbal Tonic
PopmattersThink Ninja Tune records in the mid-1990s, and the Herbaliser has to be one of the first names that pops into your mind. Along with DJ Food, DJ Vadim, and Up, Bustle and Out, the Herbaliser joined Ninja Tune founders Coldcut as one of the fledgling label’s signature acts. Naturally, then, they helped define Ninja Tune’s signature sound, a dense, blunted combination of jazz, hip-hop, electronica, and turntablism. Over the course of 15 years, eight studio albums, and even a label change, that sound hasn’t changed all that much. Instead, it’s been honed and placed into new, intriguing contexts. Spanning the band’s career to date, Herbal Tonic does an excellent job at capturing all of them.
Headed up by Londoners Jake Wherry and Oliver Trattles, the Herbaliser occupies a unique sonic space where different strains of urban music intersect, and where the line between live and sampled instrumentation is blurred. When it was pioneered in the early 1990s, this approach yielded something that sounded like instrumental hip-hop. No sooner was the convenient catch-all term “trip-hop” coined before everyone from the Ninja Tune bands to Massive Attack came to loathe it. Look up the Herbaliser on Wikipedia now, and you’ll be hard-pressed to even find the term, as the band is described as “jazz rap”. Personally, I think “trip-hop” sounds a bit less corny, but whatever you call it, the Herbaliser has been among its best, most consistent purveyors. Therefore, what you’re getting with Herbal Tonic isn’t just the best of the Herbaliser. In a sense, it doubles as the best of an entire genre.
It didn’t take long before guest MCs were recruited to rap over the stoned-out breakbeats. Indeed, a third of the 15 tracks here are hip-hop, with some excellent talent on the mic. Longtime Herbaliser favorite Jean Grae is showcased on three outstanding tracks, her no-nonsense flow taking control of “Nah’ Mean Nah’m Sayin’” while uneasy horn blasts cover her back. “The Blend” slinks up to you like a sexy, noir-ish private eye, while “Tea & Beer” takes no prisoners. American MF Doom is full of menace on “It Ain’t Nuttin’”, while the frantic, always-welcome Roots Manuva fronts “Starlight”, a genuinely jazzy number with a nifty, surprising minor-key turn....full text
BbcLondon’s The Herbaliser have been Ninja Tune stalwarts ever since their 1995 debut album Remedies announced them as a serious alternative to the mod-esque acid jazzers and bug-eyed big beaters of the day.
Even so, it took the duo of Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry until their second album, 1997’s Blow Your Headphones, to really find their feet and fully justify the patronage of their close mentors (and, not coincidentally, Ninja Tune’s head honchos), Coldcut’s Matt Black and Jonathan Moore.
There were always similarities between The Herbaliser and the acid jazz groovers, but where the mirrored beanie brigade placed so much emphasis on finding that oh-so-obscure sample, Wherry and Teeba seemed more interested in the textures of the beats, marrying jazz and soul to their old-skool hip hop roots, rather than the other way around.
Remedies is entirely written out of Herbal Tonic’s best-of picture, while only The Blend from Blow Your Headphones gets a look in, although two other tracks from the album are included from the full-band live albums Session 1 and Session 2: Mr Chombee Has the Flaw and a mighty version of Ginger Jumps the Fence....full text
ThewordisbondThe Herbaliser have been around for a minute. Since 1994 in fact. And, just by being on the legendary Ninja Tune label in London, you know that they have pedigree. Ollie Teeba and Jake Wherry have gone through a major transformation over the years, from studio buffs to big live band proponents of not only instrumental hip hop and the occassional vocal and raps but to global hip hop jazz and funk fusion soundtracks. These guys don't just make songs, they make themes, anthems that are soundtracks to a generation....full text
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