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Ahamefule J. Oluo talks about new tribute to a Seattle reggae icon

Album cover art by Allegra Crowther
Oak Head Records
Musicians from jazz and reggae backgrounds honor their mentor Clinton Fearon with their debut album.

A group friends formed through their experience in one of the Northwest’s top reggae bands has released a new album honoring their past, their continuing friendship, and the diversity of the reggae genre.

New Cool host Abe Beson talked with trumpeter Ahamefule J. Oluo about the new self-titled album from Super Nice Guys, inspired by the band’s formative years mentored by legendary Seattle-based reggae star Clinton Fearon.

Fearon was a member of the Gladiators (1969-1987) and played bass on sessions by producer Lee “Scratch” Perry before moving to Seattle and eventually forming his Boogie Brown band.

Oluo dates his connection to the group though Fearon’s longtime musical director Izaak Mills, whom Oluo met at Cornish College. In short order, Mills recommended the 21-year-old Oluo to play on Fearon’s 2011 album Give & Take. It’s what Oluo calls “my first real session with, like, a real person… an actual master.”

Super Nice Guys also includes Duende Libre keyboardist and composer Alex Chadsey, 45th Street Brass trombone and sousaphone player Nelson Bell, guitarist Mark Oi, bassist Masa Kobayashi and drummer Greg Fields.

Fearon is “a foundational part of music. He really is an institution of education,” Oluo explained. “His desire to continue playing the music that he loves makes him push the musicians that he’s working with to do it the right way.”

Mills and guitarist Oi were the first of Fearon’s “students” to consider putting a band together. The completion of Oluo’s recording studio in the woods near Hood Canal happened to coincide with Mills’ dream of making a record with his good friends from Boogie Brown.

Oluo said the project came together “purely out of love for this music and love for each other, and out of that we happened to get what I think is a really great record.”

Pointing to the 1994 collaboration of jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie with the Skatalites as an influence, Oluo said he enjoys the improvisational potential of reggae grooves “while staying respectful of the form and the genre.”

“I’m more a fan that a frequent performer of it, my role was engineering. As more of an observer, I got to marvel at the diversity of this genre that many people think of as only one thing.”

The music was mostly written by Mills and Oi with demos ranging from thought-out forms to rough ideas informing the Super Nice Guys fleshed-out performances.

Super Nice Guys’ first single, “Number Nine,” opens with ornate keyboards and a train whistle leading into a relaxed, bouncing vamp with Mills’ flute dancing over a thick dub production that expands and contracts as if the band synchronized their breathing.

Of the production, Oluo said the idea was to get a recording that was “really clean, so that we could make it really dirty later” with vast, echoing dub effects.

“The Struggle” by guitarist Oi featured Mills’ saxophone alongside Oluo’s trumpet stating the stately theme. Both horns solo brilliantly on the album’s most jazz-leaning tune.

A favorite of Oluo, “Bob Barker” started as a rough demo by Mills with Super Nice Guys developing complex horn harmonies into a sound somewhere between Lee Morgan’s mid-60s hit “Ceora” and kitschy game show themes.

Oluo mentions ska-loving composer Danny Elfman as a touchstone to the song “Prolongation” by Masa Kobayashi. There’s a vintage production sound, including Bell’s propulsive lines on sousaphone, that gives the bonus track’s up-tempo shuffle an extra level of authenticity.

Unfortunately, the musicians of Super Nice Guys are scattered around the globe, making a tour supporting the album difficult. Mills is based in New York, Oi in the Bay Area, and Kobayashi recently relocated to Germany.

“Of course, the geography is an issue,” Oluo lamented, though he holds out hope for live Super Nice Guys shows in the near future. “Spring is where we’re aiming. I feel very confident in the quality of the music. It doesn’t feel like a band’s first album – especially a band that not many people have heard of. It makes it more difficult to spread the word.”

That’s what The New Cool is here to do.

In the meantime, look for the next Ahamefule J. Oluo project: a three-night residency for his solo show The Things Around Us at Seattle Rep’s Poncho Forum – the “work in progress” hits the stage Feb. 9 – 11.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.