This is the third in a series that explores the deeper house scenes of various cities around the world. The first two volumes took in London and San Francisco and while they were by no means weak albums they were, surprisingly, a little dull. With this set Distance is back on home ground and the result is a musically rich and emotionally satisfying set. It is also the bounciest and the jazziest of the three. The tempo is upbeat but never banging. In terms of more familiar French dance music, the prevailing mood is housier than the St.Germain/Llorca sound but not as discofied as Bob Sinclar or Modjo.
There is nothing overwhelmingly Parisian about the sound, unless that city’s long standing affection for jazz flavours counts. What is perhaps typical is the sophisticated and smooth-edged production values. Stylish is the word, whether in the choice of material or in the performance. The album opens on the soul/jazz side, gets very back-to-basics Chicago in the middle and slightly darker and groove-led towards the end. All of it sounds good, although some tracks are a bit too derivative. DJ Rork presides over the selections and also provides the albums crucial tune.
That tune is “Stay Around” and features Ladybird on vocals. With this song the singer has now appeared on three of the best soulful house tracks of the past year. From the Llorca Newcomer release came “Precious Thing” (which I saw cause a whole dance floor to rush up to the DJ and ask what it was when it was first out), then French Sessions Six gave the world DJ Rork (as Soldiers of Twilight) and Ladybird’s “Believe”, the best actual song from the dance scene for some time.
“Stay Around” is every bit as essential and will feature on many soul and soulful house DJs play lists in the coming months. Mellow, barely at house tempo, it still manages to be bubbly and vivacious. It is exuberantly sung, not in the churchy Baltimore/New Jersey mode but from somewhere in between the early nineties style of groups like Incognito and a more energetic Blue Six. Some great horns and a bass line to die for give it that extra substance that the purely digital sometimes lacks. Harder clubbers will hate it but those of us who relish that rare grooves meets 4/4 sound have found a potential anthem.
The other main vocal tracks, Phil Weeks’s “Phil Makes Me Free” and DJ Deep’s learn to Love, mine a similar seam. The deep tune is typically adept but the Weeks track is much less successful. It is spoilt, as are too many fine European cuts, by dodgy singing and uncertain lyrics. The repeated hook (“You make feel a Paris Diva”) is sad and silly. This is unfortunate as, instrumentally at least, it makes for a solid opening number. No great harm done though, for next up is the Fender Rhodes feast that is the Sun Orchestra’s “Forever”. This absolutely convincing cut combines the best of ‘70s jazz-funk with a crisp, bang-up-to-date feel. Expect to hear this in the livelier Jazz Clubs and Cafe Bars for the rest of the year.
Elsewhere, Cyril K and Playin 4 the City give two Chicago-esque deep tracks that add nothing to the genre but are efficient and well-organised. The Troublemen’s humorous and infectious “I Ain’t VIP” is the most instantly appealing of these stripped-down, no-nonsense efforts. Lyrics we can all identify with (“I ain’t on the guest list, I ain’t no VIP”) over a wicked rhythm make for good, old-fashioned club magic. To round things off Demon Richie, Didier Sinclair, and David Duriez take matters into more meandering and moody territory without entirely losing the jazz overtones.
Mobile but never frantic, this is house music to actually dance to rather than go mental over, I’m glad to say. The overall package has a confident and friendly quality that some may find a little bland but is robust enough to stand repeated listens. As a glimpse into the very suave Parisian club scene it is extremely useful and, anyhow, the outstanding numbers are worth the admission price (far cheaper than the actual clubs) in themselves. Distance does its country of origin proud—yet again.