Considering the endless stream of constantly shifting generic permutations that defines modern electronic music, it might seem almost quaint to reflect on a group such as Blaze. If there is such a thing as “orthodox” house music, it can probably be found on their turntable platters. With roots stretching all the way back to Larry Levan and the legendary Paradise Garage, Blaze play a style of house that could best be described as timeless.
Even during the music’s infancy in the mid-and-late 1980s, house was very much a mongrel genre. The direct descendant of disco, it also incorporated sounds from just about every other genre active at the time. From post-punk new wave to early hip-hop, and from salsa and meringue to funk and soul, house music became one of the first truly integrated musical styles in the history of pop, openly embracing black, white, Hispanic and gay cultures in a positive atmosphere of communal celebration. Blaze hearken back to the early days, before acid house or drum & bass or Goa or trip-hop or electroclash, back when house music was the only music.
Listening to Found Love is definitely a flashback of sorts, and I mean that in the best possible way. It hearkens back to the “Golden Age” of house without being hopelessly stuck in the past—as timeless in its own genre as the Beatles are in the context of rock and roll.
Kevin Hedge and Josh Milan, the two remaining members of Blaze, split the responsibilities equally throughout the disc, with Hedge blending the tracks and Milan playing live keyboards over the mix.
The disc begins with Peven Everett’s “Can’t Believe I Loved Her”, a simmering soul-infused track with a classically broken half-stutter garage beat offset against slight piano and synthesizer highlights and a raw vocal from Everett. The following track, Ritmo De Rua’s “Universal Love”, is the first of a handful of Latin tracks on the disc, with a salsa beat and a classic old-school synth line provided by Milan.
After “Universal Love” is the Masters at Work remix of “Little” Louie Vega’s “Brand New Day” (featuring Blaze), the lead single off of Vega’s recent album of the same name. It’s an endearing track, probably the best number off Vega’s album and definitely one of the best tracks on this compilation. The Masters at Work (of which Vega is one-half, along with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez) are perhaps the only other current production team who could match Blaze in terms of their fealty to the classic house idiom, and the team-up does not disappoint.
The unfortunately titled Jihad Muhammad contributes “Movement Blues”, adorned with brief flourishes of funk guitar and a driving deep house beat. Milan’s keyboard playing really shines on this track.
From the Latin flavors of the early tracks, the album progresses into more freestyle infused territory with Oji and Una’s “No Body” and Arnold Jarvis’ “Love of My Life.” As smooth and sultry as deep house tracks typically are, the R&B infused vocals add yet another element of sensuality that would otherwise be missing. There’s also a delicacy and restraint in these songs that is missing from most modern R&B make-out music, and it makes for a refreshing change from most modern, libidinously uncontrollable crooners such as Usher and R. Kelly.
The album ends with a pair of Blaze tracks: “How Deep Is Your Love” and the title track, “Found Love”. The former is about as powerful a track as you could ever expect to hear without lapsing into self-parody. There’s a strong male vocal, a chorus in the background, a muted jazz trumpet, some ‘70s-style synth noodling and even some quiet piano flourishes. If there was anything more going on, it would be silly, but as it is Blaze know just how much they can get away with, making the track irresistible without being overstuffed.
“Found Love” is a quieter track to end the album, a more subdued samba number with a spiritual theme, again touching on Blaze’s longstanding devotion to the concept that house music remains “the path that leads to God” (to quote from their 2002 album Spiritually Speaking). It’s an old fashioned, some might say corny idea, one that has definitely fallen out of favor with the masses in the years since, as cynicism and irony have come into fashion across the electronic music scene. But it’s obvious, listening to Found Love, that Blaze still believe in the power of a mighty kick drum and a grooving bassline to inspire the soul. House music isn’t just a job or a hobby, it’s a calling and a devotion, and Blaze remain about as devoted as they come.
// Notes from the Road
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