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Picks 1/14/2013

January 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Saw Moodymann the other night for the LIFT 3rd Anniversary and I’ve gotta say it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. An immaculately tuned soundsystem in a small dark room thick with weed smoke and incense, and then my man KDJ drops a few Dilla tracks at about 2:30am. As he would say, “It’s like y’all in my living room right now.”

Gig Friday was poppin’. Geeman’s “Bang’t” sounded incredible in the room, and a huge sing-along to D’Angelo topped it off. Big ups to all my boys, whether on the mic or droppin beats.

Got a gig this Thursday @ MOLAA w/ Clorofila. Pretty stoked, I played with them last year but had to cut out early. This time I’ll be on the floor gettin freaky.

Pulled from the crates, bins and stacks of Amoeba, Fingerprints and Zia.

Donald Byrd – Places and Spaces (Blue Note, 1975)

By now, my deep undying love for all things Donald Byrd should be apparent. Whether it’s his work as a sideman for Hank Mobley or Coltrane in the late ’50s, his work as a leader on Blue Note in the ’60s and ’70s or his almost smooth jazz/R&B in the ’80s, the man has had one of the more worthwhile careers a digger could ever hope to come across. His sound changed with the times, but the music is consistently soulful, melodic, and subtly joyful. Poring over his catalog is like charting the evolution of popular black music in the 20th century, moving from jazz to funk, to disco, to quiet storm and eventually hip hop, as experienced on Guru’s Jazzmatazz series.

This record has been on my wantlist for years, and although I see it occasionally, it always gets passed up because it tends to come with a steep price tag. My brother and I have a ritual where whenever I visit my folks in Phoenix we’ll go out and hit a record store or two. Usually I wont pick up anything because I hate to carry shit on a plane, but this time at Zia was very different. I found this record almost instantly upon walking into the store, and when I saw it priced at $6 for a VG+ copy I almost leaped. I picked it up, found a few other scores and gladly carried them all onto the plane.

The record kicks off with “Change” and it’s an immediate change from Byrd’s prior electric work, which tended to be dark, and even the Mizell produced masterpiece Stepping Into Tomorrow had a nocturnal mood to it. Places and Spaces is very much a summer record, as the Mizell’s love for samba and Caribbean music shines and adds a very sunny and exotic quality to the album. “Change” kicks off with a sense of Carnival-esque excitement, then drops into a wonderfully funky Chuck Rainey bassline with Byrd soaring over the top. The strings are perfectly arranged, elegant but not over the top. This is a real peak time bomb, love it.

Taking the mood down a bit is “Wind Parade” (above) which is a soulful, languid track, perfect for lounging on the weekend or late night on the dancefloor. The track is pleasant and warm, and is a real pleasure to listen to. Opening up the flip, “Places and Spaces” is similar, but a bit on the sweet side. This is pre-quiet storm soul, and is basically some of the best stuff from that genre. Byrd hardly makes an appearance, but I’ve grown to trust the Mizells as much asthe man with the horn.

Ultimately though, this record can be summed up with “You and Music,” a masterful soul track that balances cheesiness with an abundance of human spirit and subtle funk. Kay Haith’s sweet vocals really carry the vibe, and help balance out Byrd’s remarkably unremarkable vocal talents. Not necessarily the greatest Byrd/Mizell jam, but certainly a damn good one. So glad to be able to put this on my shelf and in my crates.

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Yellowman – Zungguzungguguzungguzeng (Greensleeves, 1983)

PA! PA! PA! I flipped when I saw this real clean copy of this classic Dancehall bomb at Zia for the mad low price of $8. Goldenage Greensleeves dancehall records often fetch a pretty price, that is if the records ever turn up in LA at all. This was the diamond in the rough of the whole reggae/world/latin section in the store, but the score was very worth it.

Yellowman was one of the baddest of his day, revolutionizing the genre by making it raunchier, and branding a now familiar thuggish flair. His flow is fast and confident, with the ability to not only ride a groove, but to carry it.  His life has been riddled with strife, but it’s a beautiful thing to hear this man do what he does best.

Zungguzu” is one of the more famous dancehall songs, and it’s been sampled/voiced by everyone from 2Pac, Toyan, Beenieman, Blackstar, Junior MAFIA and quite a few more. The track is massive, especially as the Roots Radics band is incredibly groovy, keeping the riddims simple, but full of dynamic elements. And now is as a good as time as any to mention that the record sounds unbelievable, the mix is clear and the low end is pure subbass heaven. Yellowman is a straight up G, listening to his flow it’s easy to see not only the crossover and popularity of dancehall in NY hip hop of the late 80s, but the enduring influence of his vocal intonations and flow.

Tracks range from the more rocksteady sing-song vibe of “Good, Bad and the Ugly” to the harder, forward-looking dancehall style of “Friday Night Jamboree” (above), but overall the record is cohesive and full of bombs. Everytime I listen to the record I have a new favorite song, but as of this exact second it would be “Dem Sight the Boss,” which features a great contribution from Fathead whose lazy drawl and whine is a wonderful counterpoint to Yellowman’s flow. This is a great example of a slow song that has the ability to absolutely destroy a club – the bass looming and sweeping, ghostly organ and an easy chant to follow along to. Straight up G.

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Kassav’ – Love and Ka Dance (FM/Celluloid, 1979/1980s)

This is one of the better blind (deaf?) buys I’ve had in quite some time; I’d seen it a few times in the Caribbean section at Amoeba, but the laundry list of musicians kept me at a distance as I just assumed this was some typical imperialist culture vulture crap. But no, these guys (at least on this record) are the real deal. Parisian studio musicians applying elements of disco to more traditional music of the French Antilles. I fell in love with the music of Haiti a few years ago and have since amassed a sizable collection of francophone Caribbean music.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been inundated with records for the last month or so, and even though I’ve had this one since before Christmas, I only just put it on for the first time last week. The record struck me right away, the opener “Kassav'” (above) is a no-holds barred, no frills, disco stomper. The track features all the necessary qualities of my favorite Caribbean music: hypnotic rhythms, group vocals, fat basslines, funky horns and a deep sense of trance-like euphoria. At 10+ minutes the track is a rager and fortunately for us DJs, there is a nice little instrumental break in their, which flows into some absolutely mad percussion runs that beg to be played out.

Over on the flip, the rather pop-oriented “Nouvel” does well with salsa-indebted horns and P-funk leaning synth work, but the track is just a little too tame for my taste. The title track, “Love and Ka Dance” returns to disco and is really a huge treat. The track bumps along at midtempo, but the energy is carried with an Afrobeat influence in the horn lines and in the vocals. Lovely purchase.

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Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (TDE/Aftermath, 2012)

I don’t have to say shit about this record, you’ve heard it, you’ve read about it, danced to it, smoked to it, partied to it, listened to your non-rap friends talk about how amazing it is, and maybe even got naked to it. Yeah, it is the most cohesive, self-conscious, intelligent album-length narrative released in mainstream hip hop in quite some time. Yeah, it is the best hip hop record released in a while. But to me it’s a lot more than that.

The Chronic 2001 was the first CD I bought with lunch money I had saved (and for a fat middle schooler you know that’s a huge feat); I bought it the week it came out and I hid it from my strict parents. I snuck listens while my parents were at work or asleep. Only ever being to enjoy the record at full volume while on my headphones. 2001 was the first record I loved, the first record where I pored over liner notes, knew every word, knew the damn thing in and out. And for the few short years I had a car, the CD was more often than not testing the boundaries of the Camry’s bass range. So like most people with my affliction, I’ve been waiting for the fabled Detox for years (almost 14 to be exact) and with every delay, every setback, every new rumor about the album (“Shit, dog he’s working with the LA Phil!” or “Bishop Lamont gonna be his new Eminem!”) I held out hope, fueled by the rumors and blind desire.

Understandably, Dre has a big challenge to face up to, he’s been the backbone for the careers of NWA, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, the Game, 50 Cent and more, two milestone albums under his own name, as well as lending his production and/or voice to some of the most recognizable rap songs ever. It feels like there’s been a recent swell of artists coming out in defense of the often-marginalized rap producer – spreading a modern message of “give the drummer some.” And to be frank, even if it’s a track by Mike Will Made It or Just Blaze (guys who use tags), the producers behind some of rap/R&B’s biggest hits go under-appreciated by most listeners. Dr Dre is afforded a double edged sword of fame and name recognition that few other producers have ever had the pleasure of holding. I mean, what other producer could headline Coachella?

At this point in his career, why should he release an album under his own name when he’s still got a great ear for talent? If Detox were ever to come out, regardless of it’s objective quality, all scrutiny and criticism will have been magnified by years of waiting. It’s just smarter for Dre to executive produce, crafting masterpieces for other rappers. And get it straight, Good Kid is a masterpiece. Listening to this album, it’s miles away from Lamar’s Section 80; where 80 was juvenile and pretty unlistenable all the way through, Good Kid has that intangible quality of a classic to it. It sounds good, it feels good, it’s heavy with spirit and talent – but most importantly, Dre touched it. Unlike his Black Hippie cohorts whose debut full lengths have been good, but fairly unremarkable, this album is incredibly focused and primed for maximum accessibility.  Dre may not have made every beat (or even most), but you can sure as hell bet he cleaned up a lot of the Pro-Tools sessions, making sure each kick was hard and each string sample clean, making sure Kendrick’s flow sounded exactly how it needed to be. The diligence of Dre in the studio is widely documented, often taking the role of drill Sergeant, commanding all day voicing sessions. With a weaker man at the helm, nobody would be talking about how they’re sick of hearing Kendrick in the club, radio, your friend’s car or on Pitchfork. At the end of the day, Detox may never come out, but thankfully Good Kid did.

Picks 12/24/2012 – Beat Swap Meet Pulls Pt. 2

December 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I got busy/sick/whatever last week and didn’t update. Now I’m at my parents house and this environment here isn’t exactly conducive to writing. So there are a few records I didn’t write about that I really wanted to. So it goes. Everything should be back to normal this next weekend, but who knows. I’ve got such a backlog of records I need to write about. Records records recordsrecordsrecords

Pulled from dusty crates at Beat Swap Meet.

GQ – Two (Arista, 1980)

 Kind of weird to hear myself say this, but GQ is one of my favorite disco bands. Unlike a lot of other projects at the time, their music landed squarely on this side of too cheesy, working as a  tight group with a real knack for the dance floor coupled with some extremely sugary melodies. They’re best known for the Studio 54 classic “Disco Nights (Rock Freak),” but I think their entire catalog is pretty great. Coming up through the ’70s as The Rhythm Makers, their time together has allowed them to develop an audible camaraderie and the deep pocket groove of a veteran band.

“Lies” (above) is the clear winner for me, this is one of those tracks that made listening to the radio at night as a kid – tuning into the disco station – so rewarding. The track is an excellent example of how glitzy big money disco can be soulful and compelling; anchored by a remarkable bassline from Keith Crier, a thick synthesizer haze creeps in with jangling keys processed by what could be King Tubby himself and then the vocal come in. I really love the sound of Emanuel Raheim Leblanc’s voice, he’s got this very emotional voice that has a lot of influence in Doo Woop and early sweet Soul, but sung with the assurance and immediacy of a modern R&B star. Yes, the chorus with its blaring horns and weird lyrics are a low point, but the tight groove and phenomenal musicianship of the core track is more than worthwhile. If you want a leaner cut, go with Andres’ brilliant edit, “Change My Mind.”

Looking at the record as a whole, the upbeat dance songs sit on the A-side and the quiet storm ballads are reserved for the flip. “Standing Ovation” kicks off the record and it’s a great introduction to the slick groove GQ brings to the table. The track is at once funky but peppered with elements of Prince funk n’ roll and classic Smokey Robinson melodies. The track is fairly cheesy, but the melody is so damn good and the groove so tight you can’t help but dance and sing along. Faring much better with this formula is “Someday (In Your Life),” as the track moves forward with a quiet shuffle and jangly guitar. The bass is tight, the drums are crisp, and the synth haze is nice and thick – excellent work guys.

Now, the sound of the group is very important for me as a listener and a DJ, and there’s a reason why this record has been my most listened to item of from the trip. The clean and light guitar riffing against the rich bass is only accented further by soulful electric piano work or airy rhodes ambiance. Add to that a singer half sweet soul and half disco assertiveness. All that produced by Jimmy Simpson, an influential New York producer/early remixer who knew how to give a big nod to the DJs and dancers in discos and skate jams.  He crafts a mix that is a real delight to hear on a quality soundsystem – the bass is heavy and enhanced by a soft kick, while synth nebulae float above the silky melodies. The album ends with “Its Like That,” a piano led disco bomb that perfectly encapsulates the essence of what makes this band a step above their peers. They take a more Chic style approach here, sashaying with a strong male-female vocal hook and hefty bassline, but then they introduce a rogue synth breakdown that is absolutely mad. It totally disrupts the perfect sugary image GQ has been running with and demonstrates that this isn’t paint-by-numbers disco, this is music that is aware of its surrounding, but still capable of being forward thinking.

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Laidback – Sunshine Reggae b/w White Horse (Sire, 1983)

“White Horse” (above) is a true electro/synth-pop classic, bearing the notable distinction of having been aped by both Prince and 2 Live Crew. It’s a brilliant drum machine work out with a simple bass line and even more intuitive lyrics. This is dance music, pure and simple – dumb, fun, and pleasantly weird. The bass is heavy, the rhythm jacking and the lyrics are too simple to not sing along too – that is if you’re not laughing at them. “Sunshine Reggae” is not really my thing at all, it’s just too damn cheesy (goddamn steel drums) for my taste.

Categories: disco

Picks 11/11/12

November 11, 2012 Leave a comment

I like to think about the geographical coverage that music has, about the routes it takes – how it seems to drop off influence like straying musicians on a long tour. This weeks picks cover a kind-of relationship between NY and the Caribbean, in that all the records were based out of NYC, but two of them bear cultural significance to the Caribbean, but wouldn’t  be the same without their NY musical counterparts.

Pulled from a trip to Bagatelle.

Chic –Chic (Atlantic, 1977)

I’ve gotta get something off my chest real quick: Disco was my first true love; I have incredibly fond memories of being a young kid and dancing in my room to Ray Rhodes DJing on Disco Saturday Night – bumping the boombox, just bugging out to all the funky grooves. Even when I discovered punk, and consequently became consumed in that world, I was still drawn to four-on-the-floor and fat basslines wherever I could find it. Consequently, my re-immersion in disco has been very nostalgic and extremely fulfilling. Looking back to the Disco Saturday Night show on KBIG, I realize that Chic, played a big part my favorite songs of that time, tracks that still hold up today. Listen to “Dance Dance Dance” (above), “He’s the Greatest Dancer” or “Le Freak” and feel how suggestive the 4/4 percussion and slinky bass grooves are, especially when paired with simple refrains and subtly uplifting arrangements that aim straight for the boogie-oriented parts of your body.

Chic was the group’s first album, and the beginning of a great run for Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The group fused the groovy, urban funk and soul of NYC with the focused kick of European disco ala Cerrone; a match that resulted in a number of hits for both the band and the numerous A-listers they worked with (Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Madonna, Debbie Harry). The band was flexible, funky, soulful, and with a sense of fun that quickly became the soundtrack to not just Studio 54, but dark clubs and aromatic backyard parties everywhere. This is clearly not disco by numbers, however, and the group uses innovative arrangements and unique instrumentation to accent their elegant vibe. The keyboard solo in “Dance Dance Dance” is a particular highlight for me, and must be included when played out.

For every ferocious floor-filler cut on the album, there lies a more gentle, jazzy, quiet storm tune with soft vocals, a warm subdued atmosphere and lots of velvety space. “Sao Paolo” has a strong bossa nova nod to it, and it allows space for the group to show off their chops while still keeping the mood up. The Luther Vandross featuring “You Can Get By,” is another highlight, which outside of the cheesy verses, predominately focuses on a groovy shuffle while the strings struggle to match the velvety voice of Vandross.

But ultimately, the reason why Nile Rodgers’ revival of Chic is not only still relevant, but powerful, is that this music has real timeless groove to it, their funk is earthy and human. The words are simple, they’re easy to sing along to, the bouncy rhythm is genre/culture-crossing – Chic’s brand of fun is universal. As they end the album with the late-night cut “Strike Up the Band“, the track’s refrain lets loose the secret to the band, “Strike up the band / Making music is our plan / Got to feel the rhythm if you can.”

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Scorpio – Scorpio (Geronimo, 1987)

I’ve been playing a lot of Hatian kompas in my sets recently, and it seems to be going over very well. It’s a style related to merengue, but the truly good stuff has some of the best aspects of psych-funk, afro-beat and disco. The acidic guitars and bleeding synths spin in hypnotic loops, the percussion charges forward in never-ending groove, call and response vocals propel the feet forward, and the bouncing rhythm commands you to float.

As with most island music, the albums are predominately calypso/soca-minded and thus often fall in the pitifully cheesy spectrum of the music world. In the case of this album, side A is an exceedingly jolly affair with lots of bright images of umbrellas in glasses and palm fronds.

Thankfully from the first moment of side B the listener is lured into the dance with a rumbling groove and haunting rhythm melody. “Min Yayade La DR” (above) is really strong, an incredibly adaptable dance track that has enough low end to be snuck into anywhere from an Afro-minded set to disco or house. Aside from a faulty synth solo, the eight minutes are pure sweaty pleasure. “Noel” is a bizarre Christmas track is pretty funky, nowhere near as strong as “Min Yayade,” but there are some really memorable horn lines, some tough vocals and an overall vibrant groove. Not a track I can see myself playing out too often, but hey, Christmas is coming up.

Frankly, this is one of the more exciting finds I’ve yet to pick up at Bagatelle. It’s not easy to find Hatian records out on the west coast, as much of the music landed and stayed in either New York, Miami or France. It’s on trips like this one that I feel vindicated in my habit.

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Admiral Tibet/Coco Tea – Reality Time/Lonesome Side (1987)

This was a really great find, two strong Jammy/Steely & Cleavie riddims voiced by two great vocalists. Steve picked up a big dancehall buy last year, but new stuff keeps getting put out in pieces and this is one of the new things that totally blew me away. When I first put it on, it was the Coco Tea side that made me bring it home, but once t hit my system at home, I was able to fully experience the heaviness of the “Reality Time” riddim.

As I often stress on this blog, there are records which need to be heard with the proper instruments; a quality soundsystem or good headphones are the only way to truly experience the range in tones made available by some music. That being said, listen to the “Reality Time (Version)” and turn up the bass, the way it kicks in the left channel is absolutely killer. It has depth and roll to it that dubstep producers today wish they could replicate. But this is old school, 1987, made in Jammy’s studio in New York with both dancehalls and whips in Flatbush and Kingston predominately on his mind. I can’t express to you how much I love this riddim, I would have to geek out about the chronology of musical advancement, of genre movements – as to how this video game-esque riddim, weighed by fat synthbass and three-note casio melody would influence the IDM/Warp movement. Truly fat riddim, I love the vibes on this. Pure meditation.

Coco Tea’s track, “Lonesome Side” is great too, and works in a different setting. It’s a shuffling lover’s track; sweeping low end gives the track an infectious swing to it and Tea’s voicing is really catchy and fun. This will be a great backyard party track once the weather warms up again. Big ups to the NY-Kingston-Long Beach connection.

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Donald Byrd – Love Byrd (Elektra, 1981)

Donald Byrd’s A New Perspective was the record that made me fall in love with jazz, and it still firmly stands as one of my favorite albums today. Like many jazz heads, I loved to hear Byrd working in his soulful post-bop mode, or doing his funky thing with the Mizzell Brothers and Blackbyrds. Thus his, (as well as most jazz players’) 80’s records went overlooked and flipped past an have become dollar bin staples. I demoted the time period to quiet storm waste, elevator muzak, or sad bebop revivals.

While playing a Mizzell-Byrd track a few months ago I had someone come up to me and talk to me about a Byrd-Isaac Hayes collaboration, a record that eluded the cheesiness of 80s jazz. It was this 1981 record, with the boring cover, that hid the unassuming funk of two legends of black American music.

Looking at reviews for this album across the internet is pretty funny, they are filled with negative declamations that Byrd is selling out, that this music is not jazz, etc – but they’re missing the point entirely. This album is a production of Isaac Hayes, it’s heavily reflective of his vision and he employs Donald Byrd’s voice into the mix in a way that accents Hayes’ soulful-funk. I had a discussion the other night while seeing some friends DJ, about that particular brand of music that is the essential Sunday morning housecleaning soundtrack, those records that are airy, vaguely romantic, yet upbeat and memorable. This record falls squarely on that mark. The soft groove of a track like “Feel Like Loving You Today,” is melodic and uplifting, the vocals vague, yet romantic. Throughout the album the group is a strong representation of the work Isaac Hayes is known for, even highlighting the use of his Hot Buttered Soul Unlimited quartet, so there are plenty of moments of saccharine cheesiness that ultimately keeps Hayes from being a more revered member of my record collection. Yet, being 1981, there is plenty of bounce and quiet storm shuffle, carried out in a way that does sometimes straddle the line of tastefulness, but ultimately results in funky feel-good music that feels similar to the work of Stevie Wonder.

What separates Donald Byrd from other jazz-turned-r&b artists in the early 80s, is that he keeps the late night vibe that has made him a favorite since day one. The melodies tend to remain subtle and the focus prevails on soulful vocal intonations or a funky instrumental, as seen on “Love Has Come Around.” This album may not be without its outdated flaws, but in moments like the heart-on-the-sleeve singing in “I Love You Love” (above) we realize that we’re not listening to a jazz album – this is a soul album; and if there’s one thing that Donald Byrd has, it’s plenty of soul.

Categories: 2012, dancehall, disco, fusion, Haiti

Picks – 11/4/2012

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had a busy week. I’ve got a new mix out, it’s been a while. Hope it was worth it. Dancer’s only.

Pulled from trips to Amoeba and Fingerprints, and an order from Chemical Records.

Ronnie Foster – Two Headed Freap (Blue Note, 1972) PICK!

Madlib’s “Mystic Bounce” has been a staple in my DJ sets since the very first day I got turntables. I love that slinky bassline, the soulfulass keys, and that deep bounce. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was a reworking of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” (above), but for some bizarre reason I’ve passed on Ronnie Foster’s souljazz masterpiece for years.  As I’ve been slowly inching my way back into jazzland, I decided that was now was finally the time.

Starting off as nerdy as possible, the little research I did credits Foster as playing “organ,” but this doesn’t sound like the greasy B3 that Jimmy Smith was known for. Foster’s sound is crisp and slightly compressed, his notes dance smoothly, yet sometimes allowing himself to succomb to the shyness of a rookie. The trepidation doesn’t last, and as he eases into his zone, his biggest benefactor is the tight rhythm section keeping the funk afloat. “Two Headed Freap” is a brilliant example of this; the heavy latin rhythm holds the forefront as Foster eases himself into the track, the rhythm then slows down, the bass becomes languid, and here Foster shines with a post-Sly Stone gutbucket funk that will take anybody to the dancefloor. It’s a mixture of jazz-chops, youth, and musical misadventure that really separates Foster from his peers, whether they be Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith or Sly Stone.

As is typical with most jazz albums of this time, the record features a few contemporary r&b covers. Usually this is a huge detriment to an album, as so much focus is played on the melodies of the chart-toppers, such that all sense of jazz is either lost or contrasts too sharply. Foster’s covers of “Lets Stay Together” and “Don’t Knock My Love” steer clear of the usual trappings, as the group deftly moves through and passed the themes of the originals, instead re-purposing the music to fit the group’s artist expression. The inclusion of fuzzed out guitar on the “Don’t Knock My Love” cover is excellent and provides a level of sonic depth rarely felt in jazz at the time.

Now for “Mystic Brew.” I had the pleasure of playing a jazz set last Monday at the Virginia Country Club, and to my surprise the sound in the room was absolutely unbelievable. The venue has high, vaulted ceilings, wood everything, and a big pro soundsystem that I’m sure never gets put to proper use. One of my opening tracks was this Ronnie Foster jam, and it really set the tone for the remainder of my set. From the entrance of that warm, acoustic bassline the tones just vibrate with a deep sense of cool. Foster’s spaced-organ sounds spliff-stuck, as it gently opens up the groove. The air is thick with atmosphere, the vibes are warm and heavenly, and when Ronnie Foster comes back in, he returns with the energy and showmanship of a man who simply wants to compel you with his groove.

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Xosar – Nite Jam (Rush Hour, 2012)

This has been a really busy debut year for Xosar. Nite Jam is her third EP under her own name this year, along with two collaborations with Legowelt as Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui – with a third due out soon as Xamiga. Legowelt has really lent a benevolent hand to this beautiful, young producer from the Bay Area. It’s immediately present that she is incredibly talented, with a fully focused musical vision. With full knowledge of the contemporary musical climate, Xosar crafts nocturnal, analog, Detroit house/techno that is both familiar, yet absolutely fresh.

Nite Jam” is a wide, sprawling, dubbed-out production that appeals to a wide range of scenes; anywhere from dub techno to “bass music” to Omar S’ twisted homage/vision of classic Detroit. The production is excellent, it is lush and full, with virtually endless, minute elements adding curious futurisms to the mix. The track is propulsive and hypnotic, just the way I like.

The flip, “Elixir of Dreams,” is an awesome foil to the tough sound of the a-side. “Elixir” must be referring to syrup, as the codeine fogged, slow-mo vibe is thick on this light hearted, early-morning techno track. Aside from the whoosh of high hats, this track is essentially weightless, reminiscent of many things pleasant, yet intangible, further purposing the oneiric lean. Synths twinkle and float, the kick suggests rather than dictates, and organic percussion adds immensely to the ambiance. The attention to detail, as well as the careful construction of vibe, is a strong character of Xosar’s work as an artist, and I am very much looking forward to see her progress.

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Sano – Chupa! (Cómeme, 2012)

I have been unsure whether to include this as one of my picks. The sound is dark, dense and fairly aggressive. Yet, below the murky vibes are gloriously funky rhythms, primed to induce movement. But as many times as I have listened to this record I felt that it was just too rough, too dark – I had no real frame of reference for this music. Then, yesterday morning, I watched Matias Aguayo’s RBMA Lecture, and the portion where he discusses his Cómeme street parties really opened up my eyes. DJs who were typically involved in the club-oriented music world were taking party vibes to various, spontaneously chosen, Latin American cosmopolitan parks and public squares, in which most of the audience would have little knowledge of “dance music.” The DJs began to create music specifically aimed for these parties, delving for a sound that would induce children, old people, and the random passer-by to stop and groove for a minute. The sound has come into it’s own, with the label having a unified vibe to it, rather than a unified genre tag. Far-reaching in its influence of the Latin American musical diaspora, yet undoubtedly modern in its execution, Sano’s Chupa!  fully embodies the spirit of the label and party.

This marks Sano’s, of Medellìn, Colombia, first official release and it shows the work of someone who has a natural talent. The rhythms here are all fully-powered, hard driving, metallic clangs and fuzzy synth tones. This is not introspective music, this is 100% dance music. Although each track could fall into the house/techno tradition, the influences of salsa, cumbia, freestyle and electro are heavily present. Title track (and recent feature in my latest mix), “Chupa!” is a wonderfully dumb freestyle/ghetto house banger with heavy use of dirty, nonsensical vocals. And that’s exactly what reaches out to me about this record – it’s this amalgam of all the best parts of dance music. It’s the energy, it’s the sense of rebellion, it’s youth, it’s fun.

Disco Noche” is Sano’s other high point, and was the track that turned me onto this record in the first place. The track is an eerie, 4am latin boogie banger that would be the perfect soundtrack to so much nastiness. The rumbling congas, the bouncing bassline, the squelching theremin, all move together harmoniously in order to get you to move. This record came to me at a perfect time, as I’ve recently started to feel a little stale with music, but Sano, as well as Cómeme,  is reminding me that it’s all about the groove.

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Vis a Vis –Obi Agye Me Dofo (Ambassador/Continental, 1977/2011)

If you’ve been reading these posts, or if you’ve ever seen me DJ, you know that I have a weakness for dark, groovy music. In fact, those are probably the only underlying traits that govern my record collection. This record by the Ghana legends, Vis A Vis, does not betray either of these descriptors. Continental Records (a sublabel of Secret Stash, I believe), has been issuing a lot of great records from the African diaspora recently and this LP is exemplary in both its sound and design quality.

The A side opens up with one of the deepest tracks recorded to tape, “Obi Agye Me Dofo,” with dripping wah guitar, thundering percussion, and an absolutely grimy, funky synth tone that George Clinton would go nuts for. Less in tune rhythmically, with other African styles, the first side is made up of two epic Afrobeat burners. Where “Obi Agye” is the definite party starter, “Kankyema” is a bit more spacey and searching, yet no less funky. If you haven’t heard this music before, please do yourself a favor and give it a listen, as there is no other sound in the world quite like this. The music is subtle and repetitive, the melodies are haunting and trancelike, the vocals filled with desperate emotion.

The B side draws more from the High Life tradition, a style which I feel can be very cheesy. The mood is substantially more joyous and overblown, to the extent of banal island muzak, but it must be remembered that this is one of Ghana’s top bands doing their funky thing, so its never really bad music. The standout track here is “Susan Suo,” which reminds me more of mbalax than high life, as the groove is more of a focused percussive, driving jam with vaguely narrative vocals. It’s actually a track that I can see myself using as a bridge between worlds.

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Bohannon – Gittin’ Off (Dakar, 1976)

Everytime I see the name Bohannon my heart skips a beat, I quickly pull out the vinyl to make sure there aren’t party marks all over it, and then I begin the difficult task of trying to remember if I already own the record. As most of Bohannon’s records have a very consistent sound to them, so do his album covers – typically adorned with his sly, longing gaze, and perfectly pressed hair. Gittin’ Off comes close to being my favorite release by the ubiquitous sleazefunk man.

Interestingly enough, it is my understanding that Bohannon’s influence was felt most in the alternative gay/disco/punk scene of late 70’s, early 80’s New York. Arthur Russell, Liquid Liquid and the Talking Heads have all cited Bohannon as a big influence on their music, and it’s curious to see how the repetitive guitar riffs, deep pocket drumming and Bohannon’s high-pitched whine so easily found its way into that scene. Sexually ambiguous seduction tracks like “Gittin Off” are perfect for dancing, partying, being young and getting in trouble. The track is riffy, so it appeals to the rockers; yet its got a firm and funky groove, so it works for the gays and ladies; but it also has a catchy refrain, so it sticks in your brain. This is carefully crafted, wonderfully executed dance music. Further appealing to the NY art crowd is the track “South Africa 76” which picks up a ska rhythm at breakneck boogie tempo, and throws in vaguely political lyrics. The lyrics are not important here, or anywhere on this A-side, as it is just another element in the propulsion of the track.

Despite the simplicity, Bohannon is not short of creative elements in his work, as he intriguingly uses a deep rumbling synth on “Feel Good At Midnight” (above) that must have certainly been a nod towards DJs who would have been able to fully purpose the subtle dread on a quality soundsystem. The track is a fairly simple, light-hearted disco/boogie track, but that ominous synth tone unsuspectingly creeps into the mix, employing heavy low-end on an otherwise fairly light album. On a standard home system, the bass does nothing but add some atmosphere to the mix, but in a real system the rumble would set the tension til the whole place is gittin’ off.

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Maya Jane Coles – Hummingbird (Hypercolour/HypeLtd, 2010/2011)

Maya Jane Coles is currently enjoying being one of the more celebrated young producers in the dance music world. She makes smooth, catchy, house music that is both nostalgic, yet timeless. Utilizing her own vocals more and more, she has seen herself rise in stature releasing across labels such as Hypercolour and 20:20 Vision, compiling a DJ Kicks compilation, doing a split with Miss Kittin, as well as just last night, doing a set at the Day of the Dead Hard festival. This single features some of Coles’ earlier work, but these tracks carry a lot of the developed character and forward-thinking attributes that make her a quality artist.

Both of her tracks on the record feature prominent use of vocals, sampled and her own. The implementation of voice further gives her tracks a song-like quality, which comes off as very natural. “Nobody Else” (above) hits especially hard, with it’s big new-jack swing influenced production, and subtle r&b vocals. It’s really a surprise to me that this song wasn’t absolutely huge, as despite the moody atmosphere, the groove is so deep and the inertia is unstoppable, especially as the vocal refrain refuses to quit. Of the same ilk, but not as soul-less as the Hot Creations label, this slinky house track works great whether at an afternoon bbq, a sweaty club in the middle of the night, or on your ipod early in the morning on the way to work.

Looking to the title track, “Hummingbird” opens with a care-free, garage skip; evoking an oneiric quality with the warm synth tones and lush haze. And then the Nina Simone sample comes in and  takes the track farther out than could have been expected. The track is not particularly ground-breaking as a production; it does not employ any revolutionary techniques, but in it’s ability to perfectly capture a vibe, to suggest a mood, through a cohesion of elements is remarkable. And as Nina continues to intone “But there is nothing,” let yourself be carried away by the same lightness that keeps a hummingbird afloat.

Categories: 1972, 2012, africa, colombia, disco, Ghana, House, jazz