Archives for posts with tag: House Music

Album Review: Crackazat, Rainbow Fantasia (Local Talk Records, 2017)

I came to know of Crackazat (a.k.a. Sweden-based producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jacobs) because of “What You’re Feeling,” a single released on Joey Negro’s Z Records label last year. It had a driving old school house vibe, kind of like Inner City and also reminded me of Lone’s excellent 2014 album, Reality Testing (R&S Records).

Jacob’s new album, Rainbow Fantasia, is more synth-centric than the Z Records single and, being a full length record, offers a range of mood and sound. On most cuts, Jacobs serves up synth melodies, vocalizations and driving dance rhythms.

On constant repeat for me since I discovered this album is the opening track, “Welcome Speech.” It has multiple hooks and showcases the most freewheeling keyboard work on the record. The opening vocal sample evokes ‘a timid emcee at a meagrely attended yoga gathering’ and gives the track kitsch, which makes it all the more addictive.

Among the uptempo tracks like “Sundial” and the title track, Jacobs includes some variety in the trance-like vibe of “The Only One” and the vocals on “Holding You Close.”

I have to admit, the magic of electronic music fades a little as I learn more about the tools that make it easier and easier to produce. This tutorial in particular, by Incognito collaborator and celebrated producer, Ski Oakenfull, is very revealing for a non-musician like me. Oakenfull is a highly talented keyboardist in his own right and this video was produced as a demonstration of the technology, rather than a glimpse into his creative process. Still, the technology makes one wonder if some producers will favour it over musicianship.

With this peak behind the curtain, it is tempting to judge Crackazat as machine music without soul. But that is ultimately up to the listener. For me, Jacobs brings the melody, the beats, and perhaps most distinctively, a dose of fun to Rainbow Fantasia.

 

Related Listening:

I Can See the Future” – Incognito, No Time Like the Future (Mercury Records, 1999): One of my many favourite Incognito tracks, featuring Ski Oakenfull on drum programming and keyboards

 

 

 

 

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Album Review: Dim Division, Miguel Migs (Soul Heaven Records, 2014)

dim_division_3Around the time IT consultants were in a frenzy over the Y2K bug, technicians of another kind were creating the music that would entrance us if the world really did end.

That era gave birth to a particular brand of deep house, also described as soulful house, melodic house, chill and so on. Two artists in that movement struck me as the most indelible at the time. One was Blue Six (a.k.a. Jay Denes)  which was responsible for the hit, Sweeter Love (1999, Wave Music). And the second was Miguel Migs (a.k.a. Miguel Steward) who produced under the pseudonym, Petalpusher.

Soon, there was a flood of “chill” and “lounge” collections. Cafe del Mar was as ubiquitous a franchise as Starbucks. After the deluge, house enthusiasts sought higher ground, wanting something edgier, more innovative. Their call was answered. New electronic music flourished in the wake of deep house and branched anew with projects like Groove Armada’s Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) (Zomba Records, 2001), Dave Lee’s orchestral Jakatta (Z Records, 2002), and Mark Farina’s hip-hop laced Mushroom Jazz series (Om Records).

Still, there was something nostalgic about the summer of 1999 and 2000 and the music Blue Six and Miguel Migs imprinted on us.

That feeling is back with Migs’ new record, Dim Division. The album is rich with pleasing chord progressions, entrancing vocals, and beats that are utterly simpatico with the music. It has remarkable depth among its 15 tracks, which will easily remain in high rotation for fans of electronic and house music. At the moment for me, “Running Away” featuring Martin Luther is on endless repeat. Other vocalists include regular collaborator Lisa Shaw, Meshell Ndegeocello, Omar, and Aya (a.k.a. Lysa Aya Trenier) who featured on many Blue Six tracks.

Migs’ catalog through the 2000’s maintained a steady hand at deep house but Dim Division could be his very best. I’ll be listening for years still.

Related Listening

Album Review: The Secret Life of Us, Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band (Z Records, 2012)

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U.K. producer Joey Negro (a.k.a. Dave Lee) has a knack for recreating 70’s funk/disco zeitgeist with a contemporary dance sensibility. This is the fourth album from his Sunburst Band incarnation and its most uplifting and danceable collection.

Missing from this album is some of the innovation we saw in earlier releases which experimented quite brilliantly, with some jazz and electronic fusion. Notably, Until the end of Time from 2004 featured a sensational ode to Ahmad Jamal in the track “Far Beyond,” borrowing Jamal’s climax from his opus, “Swahililand.”

To be fair, there are indeed some unconventional tracks here, including “Jazz the DMX,” a jazz fusion overtop dance beats and “Educated Funk,” a trancey interlude, showcasing some of the talented players in the band, such as bassist Julian Crampton.

Former Incognito guitarist, Tony Remy, also makes his mark, especially in his easy-going rhythm track on “Opus de Soul.”

This album is at its best though across the generous collection of dance tracks that blend soulful house and jazz/funk elements. “In the Thick of It” is a brilliant opener with a nice bossa outro. The title track, sung in duet by Donna Gardier and Diane Charlemagne, is a great melody, reminiscent of Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, circa 1995.

As well as an impressive line-up of vocalists, what stands out are the keyboards of Michele Chiavarini. I don’t think I’ve heard this much use of a bender since 1982! “Where the Lights Meet the Music” showcases Chiavarini’s style, which rekindles the early 80’s pop/funk sound innovated by D-Train keyboardist, Hubert Eaves III.

“Caught in the Moment” uses the Doobie Brothers “What a Fool Believes” rhythm track, continuing a series from prior releases that paid homage to classics. Namely, “Atlantic Forest” from Here Comes the Sunburst Band (1998) is a nod to Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest.” And “We Will Turn You On” from Until the End of Time pays tribute to CHIC’s “Good Times” rhythm.

It’s remarkable that a producer as prolific as Lee has managed to keep this outfit together over its now 15 year history. Releasing an album about every 4 years shows confidence, that their music, like its 70’s pedigree, will continue to make people move.

Players:

Dave Lee (producer), Michele Chiavarini (keys), Julian Crampton (bass), Thomas Dyani-Akuru (percussion), Tony Remy (guitar), Pete Simpson (vocals), Frank Tontoh (drums)

Feature: Disco – the rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated

Those of us old enough to remember the late 1970s witnessed a mass and abrupt rejection of disco as that decade closed out. The public’s about-face was so swift that the music was erased from our conciousness. Unlike the more resilient psychadelic rock and heavy metal from the 60s and early 70s, disco truly was dead, just as the t-shirt announced.

Thirty years later, I can appreciate disco’s lasting impact. The hi-hat dominated rhythm tracks, the squelchy guitar lines, the strong female vocals, and the orchestral strings are once again markers of coolness in today’s carefully curated underground DJ mixes.

Where did disco come from?

Several credit the partnership of Italian producer Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer as the beginning of disco. Summer’s Love to Love You and I Feel Love are trancy an innovative departures from the folk-based love tunes of that era and introduced electric instruments in a much bigger way than pop music had seen.

Although Summer reached #1 with Love to Love You in 1975, there were several examples of earlier tunes with the disco sound, including 1972’s One Night Affair by Jerry Butler and Rock the Boat by the Hue’s Corporation a year later.

Arguably, the context of where the sound was heard was as important as the musicians that created it. The alternative nightclub scenes in Philadelphia and New York gave this music a space. These were not mainstream but would later evolve into the discotheques that would explode in popularity in the mid- to late 70s.

Disco was good, then some of it was bad, then it just became pop

To me, disco was at its best when it was grounded in funk and soul. And much of that era’s music is just that. KC and the Sunshine Band, Chic, MFSB and, The Jackson 5 all featured substantial songwriting with a musician’s pedigree. These qualities underpinned the disco treatment in songs like KC’s Boogie Shoes, MFSB’s The Sound of Philadelphia, and Chic’s Good Times.

Later in the 70s, with the advancement of electronic instruments and sequencers, disco got lazy. Acts like the Village People created anthems with the disco sound that was more a product of engineering and marketing than musicianship and songwriting. Some of the sparse internet reading I found on this was at www.scaruffi.com.

With disco’s death knell, the muscians and producers that lived and breathed it in the 70s moved on to pop music in the 80s. Nile Rodgers of Chic, Michael Jackson, and others transformed themselves into the kings of pop and would even outlast the next niche genre on the horizon: new wave.

Without disco, we would not have house

As disco transitioned to the mainstream in the late 70s, the underground movement that spawned it was already infatuated with something new: Garage music. Developed to a large extent in the Chicago and New York underground club scenes, Garage or Warehouse music borrowed from the melodies and vocal stylings of disco but backed it up with heavy, driving beats. DJs like Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, and Joey Negro were behind some of the hits and popular acts of that era and can be viewed as the forefathers of the modern club DJ.

As garage and warehouse eventually morphed into the more popular “house” music, the underground came above ground. One of the milestones of this mainstreaming of house music was the massive hit, West End Girls, by the Pet Shop Boys. A testament to disco’s influence, one of the Boys himself, Neil Tennant, is quoted as saying he used “Barry White chords” in the composition.

Where is disco today?

Simply put, the disco sound is peppered through pop music and continues to inspire dance, electronic, and house music. In particular, anthem pop acts like Lady GaGa, Rihanna, and Justin Bieber employ bold electronic arrangements that were innovated more than 30 years ago by disco producers like Moroder.

Outside of the mainstream (where great music lives), the selections of today’s hot DJs in the rare groove and jazz/funk genres are starting to feature hits from our disco days. Underground producer KON, recently released fresh and stunning re-works of the Bee Gees Staying Alive and Cerrone’s Hooked on You.

But for me, the find of the year and one of the main reasons I was inspired to write this post was an original by Pete Dunaway from 1974, courtesy of the Sport of Selection website (home of the Friday Night Session radio program). The track, Supermarket has generous string and flute arrangements that place it squarely in the 70s. But the rhythm track, raw and naturalistic vocals, and structure of the song allow it to stand up against the hippest releases from today’s underground scene.