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Da Whole Thing | at Version City

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Rock: Ska Reggae: Ska Moods: Mood: Weird
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at Version City

by Da Whole Thing

Experimental, avant-garde “Ska Noir” featuring members of the Slackers (Victor Ruggiero, Agent Jay, Dave Hillyard), Victor Rice and Rocker T, L.A. ska boss Chris Murray and a host of NYC jazz players, inspired by reggae, 2-Tone, opera and soundtrack music
Genre: Rock: Ska
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1. 7
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2. Polite Bwai
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3. Jakarta
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4. Coro di Sgherri
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5. Mood Swing
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6. Sheilah
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7. Backs to the Rooftops
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8. HMSS
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9. Sigma
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10. Yeah
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11. Cigars I Have to Smoke
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12. F Train
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Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Created in the midst of New York’s 1990’s ska revival, Da Whole Thing at Version City is the result of an extraordinary experiment that took place during a couple of afternoons in September of ’97 and January ’98, at King Django’s Version City Studio on East 3rd Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Three friends, Patrick Carayannis, Lief Nielsen and Kwon Chong had conjured up the material over a year of Sunday Ska sessions, and eventually linked up with now major exponents of the New York Ska scene: Victor Ruggiero, Victor Rice, Agent Jay, Dave Hillyard and Rocker T plus L.A. ska boss Chris Murray. Adding luminous jazz players Ian Russell, Takuya Nakamura, Darren Beckett, Anders Entze and Rich Nicholls to the mix, the crew was complete and ready to produce these very unique and unusual recordings.

Soaking up inspiration from a very diverse range of music including authentic Jamaican Ska (Lee Perry, Skatalites), British 2-Tone, Film Soundtracks (Morricone, Mancini, Barry), Opera (Verdi) and even the avant-garde John Zorn, the songs were treated with uncompromising arrangements, yielding a very peculiar, deeply individualistic album of true underground music. We call it Ska Noir.
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DA WHOLE THING
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“Watch me skate.” Round and round she goes, chips in the pot, high stakes, strictly Vegas. DJ Dougie Bones deals the first two cards, a four and a ten. “Half pot.” Some saucy bloke wagers. A third card hits the green felt. “A jack – you pay now.” Our eyes widen, the pot thickens. A three and a face card are dealt. “Nice spread.” Total silence falls across the table – Acey-Ducey is very serious. Mr. Trick sets down his Guinness. “Da Whole Thing!”

Raking in the pot on poker night is just one contributing to the title of a new recording ensemble down at Stubborn Records’ Version City Studio. Da Whole Thing is comprised of ten players, many among the most heavy-hitting SKA MOBsters currently at work in NYC. The formidable line-up of Da Whole Thing includes: Victor “Roots Rock” Rice (Stubborn All-Stars, New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, Orange Street, Resident Maniac, a former Scofflaw, to name a few.), bass and riding the soundboard; his partner in rhythmic precision, Agent Jay Nugent (Stubborn All-Stars, NYC Ska-Jazz, Orange Street, Agent 99, Crazy Baldhead, IRT Band), rhythm guitar; the hardest-working man in ska business himself, Vic “Lord Sluggo’ Ruggiero (Slackers, Stubborn All-Stars, NYC Ska-Jazz, Sic & Mad, The Silencers, The Nods, The Gadjits, Rancid, The Epistrophy 3), organ; the unstoppable David Hillyard (Slackers, Stubborn All-Stars, NYC Ska-Jazz, Rocksteady 7, Hepcat, The Epistrophy 3), tenor saxophone; Ian Russell (The Phantoms), a highly versatile arranger extrordinaire, soprano and ternor saxophone, flute, piccolo; Takuya Nakumara, the jazz fireball from Japan, trumpet; Ireland’s pride and joy, Darren Beckett drum; Patrick “Mr. Trick” Carayannis (Vic’s Pick, Shorty Bacchus & The Vines), the brains of the operation and originator of Da Whole Thing, lead guitar; Kwon Chong, an absolute force of nature, percussion; and then there’s me, Lief Nielsen, lyrics and vocals.

Da Whole Thing, in a larger sense, began for me with the infamous pink CD I came across “Club Ska 67” as a fledging rude boy while on the prowl for more of the current ska of a decade ago. Once I had gotten a taste of that copasetic Jamaican old-school sound, that was it, the die was cast – I had found religion. After amassing a pile of material, I toasted the trad ska over the college airwaves on WOBC-FM (a corker of a show at 3.30-6 a.m. on Sundays), but that wasn’t enough, I was determined to get out there and build some ska of my own. Shortly after I got back to NYC, Kwon Chong, my old droogie from school, arrived there as well. Not knowing a heck of lot of musicians here at the time, we decided to “make as much noise as possible” to attract more players. We figured anyone interested in doing the ska was a qualified candidate, as too much is always better than not enough. But recruiting in all directions at once, we soon learned, creates an amalgam of preposterous noise rather than cohesive unit, so it was back to the old drawing board. We persisted stubbornly, rehearsing as often as we could in Brooklyn with a handful of ‘latent musicians’.

The night 1995 turned into 1996, I was introduced to the real thing. “Mr. Trick” Carayannis, who was also looking to make his mark in the burgeoning arena of NYC SKA. Following a single jam where Trick floored us with his unique surf-cowboy guitar chops, Kwon and I dropped everything and began attending what Venice Chris later coined “Sunday Ska” at Trick’s place. These were sessions of experimenting with the ska to find the sweet sound we ourselves wanted to hear. The idea was to respect the foundation, the early ska, but to also propel it wherever it wanted to go. A cat named Jason “Skeletor” Daniels joined the weekly hijinks playing bass and soon, as the band Jumbo Deluxo, we carried out some minor performing triumphs around Manhattan.

Trick had known Agent Jay ever since he came to NYC and soon we all became familiar with Version City, a powerhouse of freewheeling creativity within Stubborn Records. Trick let Jay know what we were up to, and his and Vic Rice’s help, our band (now called Tchoupitoulas) recorded a few cuts at the Version City space. With a demo in hand, we would soon be able to recruit the players we needed to round out our sound. But at this promising point, as luck would have it, Skeletor wound up moving back to Austin. Over pints at the Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Trick and Jay had previously discussed the idea of getting a whole bunch of players together to record the material we had come up with during the Sunday Ska sessions. At that point, with just Trick, Kwon and me in the line-up, we sought the assistance of the SKA MOB. Trick put the line out and managed to bring together a massive assortment of musical behemoths from NYC SKA and elsewhere. I was astounded to find so many key players willing to help our group get underway. I recognised many of them from all the ska I’d seen around NYC and held a deep respect for their work.
At the Version City Studio, we recorded 12 tunes live, very much in the same manner the Sunday Ska had been done, but on a much larger scale. This time, all players had arrangements which Trick and Ian had worked out beforehand. We wanted Da Whole Thing to reflect the spontaneity that generated the music in the first place, so after just a run-through or two of each tune, Roots Rock Rice sentthe reels spinning and announced “Redness”.

On October 17th, Da Whole Thing played two highly eclectic sets at Version City Party at Coney Island High, now an institution of NYC SKA. Despite another ska show happening downstairs, we managed to pack ‘em in. Our repertoire ranged anywhere from Ska-Jazz reminiscent of Henry Mancini to pugnacious speedball ska to an operatic cover of a Guiseppe Verdi theme (at the end of which, Agent Jay reports, an audience member said “I can’t believe they just did that.”) Mission accomplished!

Lief Nielsen, 1998

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