"Music constructed for the more discerning dancefloor" is how this collection styles itself and of course it is true. But then every compilation put out by the wonderful BBE crew could be subtitled similarly, because Barely Breaking Even is the company that joins the dots between funk, rare groove, deep and soulful house, hip-hop, jazz and breakbeat. All those great sounds you hear in the second room, at the specialist night, in the pre-club bar, at the better weekenders but hardly ever in the Big room or on the radio -- they are the ones BBE gathers up and presents to you. I can safely there has yet to be a hopeless release on this label that is dedicated to keeping the flame of soulful dance music (past and present) burning brightly.
Most BBE compilations are themed, either presenting the favourites of leading DJs or exploring the lesser known tributaries of the various genres mentioned above. With the Beats & Pieces series label co-founder Peter Adarkwah has simply selected a bunch of superior choices that range across the myriad styles that make up the neo-Rare Groove dance scene. This could prove a problem—but eclecticism is the name of the game here and the consistent quality of the tracks quashes any doubts one might have about the musical coherence. So we get George Benson next to Femi Kuti and Incognito alongside Pharaoh Sanders. Hip-hop is followed by a Latin cut, and deep house meets drum’n'bass. The result is less messy than one might imagine and instead acts as confirmation of how much great music there is around at the margins of club culture.
Benson’s MAW produced “EL Barrio” kicks things off in an easy Latin-house style,then Joe Clausell’s mighty remix of Kuti’s “Truth Don’t Die” kicks along impressively. Too obvious, heard ‘em too often—you say? Then try the ethereal “Jujazzwarfare” by Afterglow (the unsung Anthony Nicholson, in fact) or the extremely risky deep houser (it samples Billie Holliday!), “The Child” by Alex Gopher. Both of these lodge themselves in your consciousness and demand re-playing. In between you get the James Brown-meets-Prince, staccato funk of Romanthony’s “Bring U Up”. Five out of five as far as I am concerned. And it continues for another 15 tasty cuts—Groove Collective, Pepe Braddock (the superb “Peer Pressure”—all futuristic breakbeats and scratching), Bahamadia, Bougie Soliterre etc. etc.
Of the better known selections Incognito’s “Fearless” still sounds good, from the Afro-Gregorian chant opening through the sax-driven jazzhouse of the rest of the tune. A true anthem. Staying on a jazz tip, I personally will never tire of Sanders “You’ve Gotta Have Freedom”—as silly and as infectious as ever. New to me was the closing number, Blissom &Merkin’s “Tag Team Triangle”. Jazz groove with breathy tenor and Brazilian-style guitar accompaniment, this is perhaps the highlight of the album. I will look out for more from this Canadian (it says) duo with much anticipation. I also loved the seductive and vaguely seedy house track “Come Party” by Zero DB (about whom I know nothing).
If there is a problem with the collection it is that most of its target audience will own at least half the tracks already. If that applies to you then A) it is worth it for the other half and B) let’s meet—we have a lot in common. In fairness, I must add that I can live without Tito Puente’s “On the Street Where You Live”. Love Tito, love the song—but not a classic version by any means. That apart, I can not recommend this collection too highly, especially as an introduction to a label whose love of quality and substance in dance music is embedded in every release.