Dave Lee is a busy man. He also operates under more aliases than a master spy. However, it is as Joey Negro that most of us know and love him. For it is in this role that he has kept the disco spirit alive in the bigger rooms, without tumbling too far into cheese or kitsch. Even so, it is something of a surprise to find him, on this his first mix CD, as part of NRK’s essential Nite Life series. Previous Nitelifers have included Miguel Migs, Nick Holder and Ian Pooley, all on the more melodic side of Nu House but somewhat deeper than the fun-loving Mr. Negro. Party music is his thing. You will not hear him pontificating about taking the listener on a musical journey or anything that smacks of such pretension. Dance music is for dancing. That is his simple, if irrefutable, philosophy.
So how does he respond to being added to NRK’s prestigious roster? Admirably, as it turns out. He may have a populist reputation but he is after all a connoisseur, with a knowledge of rare grooves that is second to none. Essentially, he has met the label half way and given them a set of accessible but still credible tunes, a little deeper than his usual fare, all of which have moved discerning dance-floors recently. There are some new things and, of course, a couple of his own productions but basically it’s a very palatable selection of well-known and well-respected House with the right soulful flavour. No great pushing back of boundaries, fairly perfunctory mixing and a running order that can best be described as adequate—nonetheless, the choice of tracks themselves can hardly be faulted. That in the end is all that matters. Other NRK sets will gain more accolades but this one will probably get played more than most.
Not one to save the big tunes till later, Negro opens with Jon Cutler’s richly deserved anthem, “It’s Yours”, a record that highlights the divisions in the current scene. A classic New York groove—with a “Sugar Samba” chorus, silly saxophone hook, Chaka-ish vocals and nightclub MC E-Man’s spoken tribute to Garage heaven—it is so old school it is not true. Much to the chagrin of many “cutting edge” magazines it has been played everywhere all year and stands as joyous rebuke to those who have written off real U.S. House music. One for old Soul Boys and Ibiza arrivistes alike.
A tough act to follow? No worries. Negrocan’s follow up to “Cada Vez”, “Aquela Astina” will do nicely. Get lost in those uplifting Latin grooves and it’s summer all over again. Back a few years for Black Science Orchestra’s delicious digital-Salsoul, jazz-funker “Downtown Science” and then even further back into UK club history for Jazz’n'Grooves updated mix of David Bendeth’s “Feel the Real”. This comes from the days of expensive Japanese Jazz-Funk vinyl and the Soul Mafia and only sounds a little suspect now because it is the sort of sound Jamiroquai have built a career out of pillaging. Staying in the past spiritually if not actually is Lee’s own tribute to the Fluffy Dice era, the Sunburst’s band’s wonderful “Garden of Love”. The beats may be slightly more rigid and muscular but this conjures up a world where Robbie Vincent is still a key man and Caister Weekenders beckon. It must be a vision of hell to those who have severed the connection between current Electronica/Dance and Black Music but there will be big smiles on less amnesiac faces.
I am not yet sure about his new single (“Ride the Storm” under the name Akabu).It has a great rhythm track, but if you are going to use Linda “Runaway Love” Clifford then surely you want her singing rather than doing that “Showtime at the Apollo”, Diva-talk for five minutes. Maybe its a grower. No real doubts about the rest of the tracks, though why Mr. Hermano’s Rotary Connection/Fifth Dimension-inspired “Free as the Morning Sun” was picked as a closer mystifies me. It’s all right, but sounds a little contrived outside of its album context and anyway is a curtain raiser rather than a grand finale song.
However, between Akabu and Hermano there are seven of the best this genre has to offer. Miguel Migs, Sandy Rivera, Satoshie Tomie and Kenny Bobien provide four of them and House-heads will need to know no more than that (except maybe to be reminded that Kenny Bobien’s gospel stormer, “Father”, is every bit as awesome as they thought and that Migs’ “The Jam” is the sound of the future). Blue Six’s “Music and Wine” is also included and represents Naked Music at their most sophisticated, even if everyone who wants this must already have it. Pick of a very superior bunch are Fini Dolo’s “Blow” (Phil Asher on re-mix duties) and Brothers of Soul’s “Eyes of Love”. The Dolo has been around for over three years now, first surfacing, oddly, on an RnB Promo CD. It has remained a killer cut—all subtlety and sultriness—ever since. Paul Hunter, as Brothers of Soul, specialises in not so much sampling as taking great slabs of rare ‘70s soul and laying them over the finest beats around. “Eyes of Love” is every bit as beautiful as “Soul Heaven” or “Be Right There”, two of his other much-loved Guidance releases.
Anyone who comes from a jazz-funk background, anyone for whom House is still essentially uptempo Soul will have a field day with this collection. NRK’s reputation for seeking out the best of the new breed will hopefully take this material into more techno and tech-house oriented homes. It is by miles the most vocally oriented of their growing catalogue. Some will quibble about overly familiar selections—not without justification. Still, a good tune is a good tune. You can’t blame Dave Lee for picking the cream of the crop, which is really what Nitelife 8 is all about. If you have missed out on the resurgence of soulful dance then this is a perfect way of instantly catching up. Even if you know every artist here, I bet you can’t get through the set without flicking at least three songs back to the start.