Mark Farina is probably best known for his work under the Mushroom jazz banner. It is, I think, safe to say that without those nights and, more importantly, the series of CDs that followed then the current lounge phenomenon would not have so jazzy and sensual a flavour to it. Easy to forget then that there is another side to the man. If you only associate Farina with the most horizontal of chill-out grooves then you will be surprised at the bounce and kick of this new and rather classy DJ mix.
We shouldn’t be too taken aback though. Farina has never really neglected the dance floor. In fact his house credentials are second to none. Back in the late ‘80s he became friends with Derrick Carter, possibly the most influential second-wave house producer, and became a key part of both the Chicago and Detroit scenes. Under the name Symbols in Instruments he released the track “Mood”, which found particular favour in the UK and has come to be known as the first “ambient techno” tune. I am not sure Larry Heard would agree with that but as a pointer to Farina’s future development it is significant.
Early in his career then, Farina adopted a tough May-Carter influenced minimalism and an evident fondness for relaxed sounds. The final ingredient was to be a penchant for a jazzier vibe, something that developed on the Northwestern campus radio shows of the early ‘90s and led to the Mushroom projects. That sensibility still informs this current selection but the darker and more insistent beats are what will initially strike the listener. Not that Connect is lacking in smoothness or subtlety—Farina is still very San Fran Cool. But the urgency that is absolutely absent in the MJ sets is now fully reinstated. This is Farina in main room mode with his ear determinedly attuned to getting the crowd moving.
There have been two of his more uptempo collections before now,(United DJs of America and San Francisco Sessions). Connect is superior to both, not perhaps in the individual strength of the tunes but in the cohesion and general thrust of the set. Starting with a very Latin feel, it moves through a jazz-infused section, gets very technoid and sparse and ends up funky and soulful. Throughout, you can guarantee that it is deep (in the best, but increasingly unfashionable sense of the word).
Farina’s only contribution as producer is “Radio”, a meaty, beaty thing which is getting the big push by rising UK DJ Lottie and may even be an Ibiza favourite this summer. The other names involved form a roll call of the more forward-looking end of contemporary but real house. Mustafa, Diz, Halo, Pen and Chus, Kaskade, Sirus, Kenny Carvajal, Silicone Soul, and Joshua for instance. Quality acts, every one and they all deliver.
As an old soulboy I must admit I found the more bleepy segment a little uninspiring (Andrew Macari “Seven of Nine” and Brett Johnson “Jiffy Pop” for example). However, any collection that includes the sublime “A Brighter Day” by Kaskade will score highly on the soul quotient scale. Herein segued between the anthemic “Right On” (Silicone Soul—and the Can 7 remix in case you thought it a bit over-used) and Sirus’ moodily funky “With You”, it has never sounded better. Those three tracks close the set and if you can think of a musically more satisfying trio, I want to hear your next mix project.
If the album closes on a high, then it opens even more imaginatively. No surprise that Latin Impressions’ “Boca de Bon Do Neon” and Mustafa’s “Salsa Franca” draw upon South American styles, but the juxtaposition of a really up house beats and tango style accordion on “Boca . . .” is very different and grabs the attention instantly. “Salsa Franca” begins as Carnival in digital dress and is then stripped down to bare essentials, thus acting as precursor of techno things to come. At this stage the jazz touches add a warm, organic touch and this reaches its fullest expression a couple of numbers down the line with Kenny Carvajal’s joyous “Rise”.
Emerging from the sweaty groove of Joshua’s “Work it Out”, this is pure jazz-funk heaven. Featuring a Maze meets George Benson guitar lead and the cleanest possible arrangement, this is tailor-made for the more melody-seeking and “mature” club coteries. It is over far too quickly, but provides a glimpse of summertime magic in what, from that moment on, becomes a far more nocturnal, though still enjoyable, experience. Even here Halo, Penn and Chus, Diz, and Kicksquad all pitch in with enough flair to lighten whatever gloom occasionally threatens.
So, there it is. Ignore what you have heard about the West Coast getting too somnolent for its own good. The music motors along with enough pace for anyone who knows that you don’t ever need to exceed disco BPMs for effective hip-shaking and shoe-shuffling. The mixing is flawless and the choice of cuts solid and at times outstanding. Farina is a major player and this session does nothing to damage that position. Not without its moments of ordinariness but substantial and supremely confident, Connect makes a solid addition to Om’s already healthy catalogue. Impressive.
// Notes from the Road
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