Personnel: Brinsley Forde, vocals/rhythm guitar; Tony (Gad) Robinson bass/vocals; Angus Drummie Zeb, drums/vocals, plus backing band.
History: American fans may recognize Steel Pulse as the leading British reggae group, but Aswad (Arabic for "black") is the consensus choice in England as that nation's premier reggae unit. The group's first single, "Back to Africa" topped the reggae charts there in 1976, prompting Island to release a well-received debut album, "Aswad," later that year. Aswad's reputation gained added luster when it backed Burning Spear on his memorable 1977 British tour and on the Jamaican singer's subsequent "Live" album. Since then, the group has released seven albums in Britain and undergone numerous personnel changes that whittled the creative nucleus down to the trio of Forde, Robinson and Drummie Zeb. The current "Rebel Souls" album, released domestically last year on Island's Mango subsidiary, offers well-crafted reggae with a pop slant, but it pales beside the powerful 1983 concert captured on "Live and Direct." That striking album, also on Mango, lends credence to the opinion that Aswad's chief problem has been the inability to translate the impact of its live performances to vinyl.
Sound: Like other British reggae outfits, Aswad has developed a more musically sophisticated sound than the Jamaican styles that inspired it. This is hard roots-reggae with militant lyrics describing the social situation affecting blacks in Britain, but in contrast to Steel Pulse's rock emphasis, Aswad hews closer to reggae's traditional focus on horns and potent rhythms. The real musical fireworks come when the horns lock into a particularly stirring, anthem-like melody or Drummie Zeb unleashes an explosive percussion fusillade. If Aswad's reputation as a superb live band hasn't been exaggerated over the years, its local debut could result in the most potent reggae performance since the Wailers' "Legend" tour hit town last November.
Shows: The Palace, Wednesday.