Traxx : Files #110
Reissues and respect.
It has been an interesting year in music for the cities of Detroit and Chicago. While they may never reclaim the lofty positions they once held in the eyes of the general music enthusiast, a mixture of reappraisal of old works and a smattering of new(ish) producers have meant that they aren't been shrugged off as nonchalantly as they once were.
In Detroit's case, it is mainly house music that has shone this year. Who would have thought this time last year that a new M. Pittman record would sell out in a matter of days (his Unirhythm Green 12" I reviewed last month)?
Chez Damier, one of the stalwarts of the 313 house scene has had, in the last year, both his old KMS records repressed - this scribe's choices being the untitled KMS 049 and 'I Never Knew Love' which also features the sublime Carl Craig remix of Help Myself:
There was also the new track on the 'Time Visions 1' 12" on Mojuba and the reissue of 'Foot Therapy' on French label P&D. It is somewhat amusing that in a year in which the haircut brigades in Europe got dismissed for swapping their dull mnml records for dull deep house knock offs a true master would reappear quietly in the background, with little or no fanfare. While Johnny D's records will continue to gather dust in the corner, Damier's works will continue to find themselves in the bags of the more discerning DJ.
Rick Wilhite is one house producer from the D who has flown far below the radar for many years. His sparse work rate is certainly one reason - but the re-issuing of a couple of his early joints from the late 90s by Amsterdam's Rush Hour means there is no excuse for ignoring anymore! The first of these, 'Godson' EP, originally released on Moodymanns KDJ imprint in '97, is a truly remarkable record.
It channels soul, P-Funk, disco and 80's funk into its grooves, sampling a variety of well and lesser-known sources constantly surprising with its twists and turns - feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as the Rhodes line arrives in on 'Drum Patterns and Memories'. Kenny Dixon Jr gets involved too with 2 superb remixes, wherein he stamps his own identity all over 'Drum...', cutting up the original, adding even more drama to it. The various samples, changes in style and relentless levels of funk instilled in this record mean that after countless listens you'll still be discovering joys contained within.
I covered the return of Anthony 'Shake' Shakir a few months ago, and he has kept the momentum up since then with the re-issue of his fantastic 'Arise' cut on the Syncrophone label. The original is a frenetic deep house/techno number, driven by a throbbing kick drum; the simple keys filtered throughout while a reflective melody whistles in the background. In a move that I presume was done to help grab the attention of younger listeners less familiar with Shake, Trus'me is on remix duties. But his dubbier, deeper take is a pointless exercise when compared with the original. This is but a taster for the forthcoming Frictional (Shake's own label) retrospective box set that the aforementioned Rush Hour are releasing soon. After years in the shadows, this should be the perfect eye (ear?) opener for many unaware of Shakir's genre-hopping genius.
So what about some brand new music? Mr Alex Omar Smith steps up again. Keeping it in the family for the latest on his peerless FXHE label, Omar's cousin, Big Strick debuts with the 5 tracker '7 Days'. Unsurprisingly we are in trademark lo-fi territory here. The opener 'Boss Nigga!' is a murky, shuffling number that sounds like it is nearly drifting out of time, taking forever to reveal itself. It never fully wakes up either, driven for the most part by some particularly high end percussion, and a mumbling 303 line. 'Buckle up!' follows, opening itself up for the dance floor with a simple house rhythm, backed up again with a similarly restrained melody, but doesn't detract from its dancefloor sensibilities. This must be what it feels like to dance underwater. The three tracks on the flip place themselves somewhere between 'Boss Nigga!' and 'Buckle Up!' (minus the exclamation marks) - but worth mentioning is 'Black Talk', a brutally honest, uncensored statement on what it was like to grow up as a black child and the realisation of what it meant to be different to the majority. Not many labels would be willing to release such a track.
Moving - as we always do - to Chicago, Ron Trent has been on a good run with his Future Visions label, as has Mathematics. But the undoubted star of 2009 is Tevo Howard, who can do no wrong at the moment.
This month sees him move away from his own Beautiful Granville Recordings for the first time with a release on Rush Hour sub label Hour House Is Your Rush (geddit??). 'Move' kicks off on a somewhat uptempo and more abrasive manner than previous Howard offerings, an unmistakeably Chicagoan jack track with is soon accompanied by a heavy, aggressive acid line. But just when you think Tevo is trying to kick you instead of hug you, a melancholic organ line appears to knock you on your side. Managing to balance the heavier elements of the cut with such a delicate touch is no mean feat and it's because of Howard's deft touch that you keep reading about him in this column. Every release he's put his name to has been a masterpiece, it's that simple.
The early Chicago jack sound has been a predominant influence on the Creme Organization label, most notably on its Creme Jak series. In the last couple of months this sub-label series has had three new releases, which to be honest, have been for the most part somewhat underwhelming.
As much fun as those wild 303 lines and rackety snare roles can be sometimes it can all just get a bit pointless. The guiltier parties this time around are D'Marc Cantu's 'Another Number' and The Minister's 'Second Try of The First Step Into The Third Dimension'. They both may contain some effective dancefloor material but it really is nothing we haven't heard before and they lack a strong enough identity of their own to let them win through on enthusiasm alone.
More successful is the split 12" from James T Cotton and 2AM/FM, 'King Of The Box'. This is actually because for the most part it steers away from the predictable. The J.T.C side kicks off with the title track; a wonderful disco cut led by a funky little guitar riff. It comes backed with playful, jittery drums and a bass line you could go white water rafting on. The following 'Through The Looking Glass' is a deeper, minimal house cut, a more relaxed affair than expected. On the flip 2AM/FM ups the ante somewhat with 'The Path' but trades his 303 for some dark, wigged out synthesized keys that compliment the frenetic drum roles and hand claps well. It's only on the closing 'Masters of Rhythm' that we get the more predictable acid/squelched drum work out. We'll let them away with one when the other three cuts have been such a treat.
Having conquered my ears with their expansive, multi-layered masterpiece long player Juju and Jordash make a swift return on the new Downbeat label. 'Hired Guns' is predictably dense musically and yet wholly unpredictable in its structure. So, all in a days work with a J and J record so! Similar to Big Strick, one gets the feeling they came up with this while holding their breath underwater, though this time it feels like you are swimming up a cluttered stream with all sorts of bizarre wild life coasting along with you. More on a home listening tip, or a stoned dancefloor than some of the material on their LP, you'll have to give this some time to reveal itself. Not dissimilar to Pepe Braddock in a way, it's hard to tell if these are free form jam sessions or methodically structured compositions. Beautiful and beguiling.
Much more straightforward is the latest from Fred P aka Black Jazz Consortium, 'Deep Things'. 'Build It' kicks things off with a surprisingly jagged main riff before more expected, eh, jazzier keys take over as the cut plays itself out. 'Believe' takes us into deeper territory with a subtle acid line giving way to an equally subtle string motif; it oozes with easy going charm, as does 'Blacklight' on the flip. A simple three note string-line balances off the rumbling bass and high hat of the first half of the track before the EP is closed off with the ambient 'Far Away'. It may not blow your mind but it's still highly enjoyable in it's own right.
Closing off the month with some techno, Andy Stott has had a quiet year, as has the Modern Love label where much of his output can be found. While single sided records may not appeal to many - economically they really aren't the smartest format going - 'Night Jewel' is a highly impressive growler. A grubbier cousin to the likes of Aril Brikha's 'Groove La Chord', when Stott drops the bass on you you better watch out. The rolling percussion coupled with the subby bass and main riff make this a more attractive prospect than some of the deeper techno from the Modern Love stable; a dub-not-dub techno banger. A limited edition one sider, this may get passed by by some, but it would be their loss.
Anthony Shakir 'Arise' [Syncrophone]
Rick Wilhite 'Drum Patterns & Memories' (Moodymann mix) [Rush Hour Recordings]
Tevo Howard 'Move' (House Mix) [Hour House is Your Rush]
Juju & Jordash 'Hired Guns' [Downbeat]
Chez Damier 'Help Myself' (Carl Craig Remix) [KMS]
CRC 'Vaskitsaherra' (E.R.P. aka Convextion Remix) [Metisse]
Juju & Jordash 'Deep Blue Meanies' [Dekmantal]
Dj Overdose '2012 EP' [Lunar Disko Records]
Robert Hood 'The Pace' [M Plant]
J.T.C. 'King of the Box' [Creme Organization]