I was approached about writing this review due to my interest in reggae and was surprised that I had never before heard of Groundation. That alone piqued my curiosity enough to pursue the review and do some background research on the band. Groundation, formed in 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area and billed as a spiritual roots reggae-fusion band has been prolific, releasing seven albums in almost as many years. A large band with some turnover in personnel over the years, Groundation currently consists of nine members, three of which – Ryan Newman (bass); Marcus Urani (organ/keys/piano); and Harrison Stafford (rhythm guitar/vocals) – are founding members. Undeniably reggae in both music and message, there is a definite fusion of musical genres within the heavy, recurrent tempo. Jazz is one of the more prominent and notable elements on this release that is further emphasized with the use of a trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The keyboard and bass also offer support and help to connect the different musical styles with the lyrics.
Here I Am is an exceptional album further fueling my surprise at having never heard of Groundation previously. The album starts quickly out of the gates with “Run the Plan;” a two-minute lead-in with piano accents and ensemble crescendos is an interesting way to segue into the lyrics of a song, much less the opening track. After this, the cut settles into a standard reggae rhythm delivering a somber message regarding the Darwinian struggle that is waged daily on mankind. The album is well-tracked, offering a cohesive flow that unfolds like a story. Another stand-out cut is “By All Means,” an anti-war track is a plea against those whose ultimate goal is to war-monger. This dynamic song with strong contributions from the horn line and piano transitions into another excellent track, “Blues Away.” Still emphasizing the horns, this cut incorporates more of the versatile elements of the keyboard, with Urani (keys), Te Kanawa Haereiti aka Rufus (drums), and Newman (bass), demonstrating a knack for complex rhythms. The title track has a spiritual overtone and is a soulful declaration of humanity and its short-comings This song is followed by another excellent cut, “You Can Profit”, which is a testament to the possibilities of future successes despite a bleak current state of affairs. The tracks on this release play like a call to action for those willing to better their environment and position in life.
This self-produced release clearly shows the skills that are brought to the table as Groundation continues to evolve. Here I Am is a cohesive and wonderfully executed, reinforcing the longevity this band has experienced. A solid reggae album that successfully blends musical genres from diverse cultural backgrounds ranging from jazz to electronica, this American-born reggae fusion band will have sustained life with strong projects like this under its belt. I would recommend this album to anyone with an interest in reggae, and I can personally say I will be picking up some of Groundation’s earlier work to see what I’ve been missing.
Here I Am is now out on Groundation Music.