Every weekend, dancefloors in San Francisco come alive with the city’s distinctive brand of house music. Some have dubbed the sound “San Frandisco”, which is a little inaccurate; San Francisco house embraces not only disco, but also jazz, dub, R&B, tribal rhythms, and basically anything organic and laidback. The influences are diverse, but the sound is singular and instantly identifiable: thick basslines, percussive drums, live instrumentation, and vocals, not by screaming divas but by smooth crooners. Labels like Naked and Om and producers like Miguel Migs, Jay-J, Chris Lum, and Julius Papp have pushed this sound on countless 12"s and DJ mixes. Papp’s new double CD compilation is called Montreal Departure, but it’s a good introduction to San Francisco house.
Julius Papp was born and raised in Montreal (hence the album’s title), but has become a pillar of San Francisco house. In addition to releases on labels like Loveslap and Om, he holds DJ residencies at two weeklies and set up his own label, Neodisco, in 2003. Papp’s sound is hard to pin down. His discography includes classic vocal-driven San Francisco house, percussive DJ tools, tweaky electronic disco, and jazzy downtempo. What unite his diverse output are impeccably chunky production and that unmistakably soulful San Francisco flavor. Montreal Departure consists of two discs, one mixed and one unmixed, which showcase Papp’s DJ and producer sides.
Disc one is a DJ mix by Papp, and it surprisingly (and generously) includes no tracks by the man himself. But the varied, musical flavor of the mix is much like his productions. Papp’s mixing is clean and flawless, but the mix doesn’t follow any discernible peak-valley contour. Rather, it’s simply a presentation of tunes. The few clunkers here go overboard on vocals; Phil Asher’s remix of Bah Samba’s “Let the Drums Speak” ironically buries the percussion with syrupy singing. But the hits outweigh the misses. Chuck Love’s mix of Colette’s “Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” perfectly highlights her lovely vocals. The Birdland mix of Dazzle Drums’ “Out of the Cage” mixes ‘70s jazz fusion with slinky tribal grooves. The highlight is Doctor M’s “Park Jam”, which sounds like if Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness” were a house tune. It’s a celebratory slice of funk that one wishes would go on forever.
Disc two is an unmixed compilation of Papp’s productions and remixes over the years. Unmixed dance music compilations are usually unlistenable, but Papp’s tunes are so musical that one doesn’t mind these intros and outros composed of mainly percussion. The tunes are even more diverse than on the unmixed disc. There are the requisite vocal house numbers, but the highlights deviate from the blueprint. Downtempo cuts “Echoes of My Mind” and “I Travel” bookend the disc; the latter is absolutely sublime, with languid Rhodes keys and gently pulsing synths. “Feel the Rhythm” starts with house, but unexpectedly segues into breakbeats. “A Flower Blossoms” layers Spanish nylon-string guitar over shuffling beats and deep bass; if ever there were house music for candlelit dinners, this would be it. The biggest surprise is “Chicago Tribute”, a rubbery, bleepy synth monster that should destroy dancefloors everywhere. On a compilation packed with over 140 minutes of music, this tune alone is worth the price of admission.