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Various Artists

Soulsearching - the Compost Radio Show

(Compost; US: 20 Sep 2005; UK: 22 Aug 2005)

Just Call It Cool

Here is a CD inspired by a radio show which was inspired by a record label. Perhaps best known for its outstanding Future Sound of Jazz series, Germany’s Compost has been a well-respected outlet for jazz- and hip-hop-inspired dance music for some time. By contrast, the weekly, syndicated/internet Soulsearching radio show is only a couple years old. Curated by DJ/producer/journalist Michael Rütten (electronic music seems to just beg for hyphenates, doesn’t it?), it extends the Compost esthetic to various labels, artists, and genres—and now this CD.

You know what, though? None of that really matters in light of the fact that Soulsearching is a great album, period. Rütten is adamant that his selections aren’t “NuJazz”. Fair enough; it’s a silly name, anyway. Just say, then, that most of this stuff is jazzy, chill, cool, soulful, funky electronic dance music—and leave it at that.

The first third of Soulshearching is so perfectly cool, so impeccably mellow that you wish you had a plush midcity lounge just so you could spin it there. Even if you have to settle for your bedroom, sofa, or a commuter train, you’ll still get the same effect. Danielsongs’ “I Could Save You I Could Hold You Tight” is every bit as seductive and sophisticated as its title suggests, from the scatting and gentle, Brazilian-style acoustic guitar that introduce it to the lackadaisical vocals to the barely-there house rhythm that anchors it. The handful of tracks that follows is equally sublime. Whether leaning toward house (Pascal Rioux’s “Don’t Outstay Outside 2 Night”), hip-hop (Opensouls’ “In Your Hands”), or Afrofunk (Franck Biyong’s “Power Brain”), it’s a warm, seamlessly jazz-inflected trip.

Maybe not surprisingly, the magic is slightly undone during the album’s middle section, as Rütten goes for a more eclectic mix of sounds and styles. Particularly jarring is Basic Soul Unit’s “Back Then Now”, which nails the vintage Detroit techno sound but is out of place here. There’s also some experimental electro-funk and spoken-word, none of which is bad, but none of which matches the excellence of the earlier material.

Just think of that bit as a detour on your journey to cooler-than-cool, because next thing you know Sleep Walker’s vibrant, straight-up “Into The Sun” blasts through with skyscraping sax, velvety Fender Rhodes and life-affirming vocals. From there it’s CS Cook’s brooding, naked comedown “Peephole People”, which brings to mind the excellent Alpha collective: bathed in blue light, heartbroken, soothing. A perfectly melancholic place to leave you—but then the sun comes out with Benny Sings’ “Make a Rainbow”. Gently hopeful, sung by a chorus, it’s like a dream combination of Roy Ayers and Sufjan Stevens. This is music that makes you feel like wherever you are, it’s the right place.

If it weren’t for that unfocused middle, Soulsearching would be a perfect document of where soul music can still go when it’s not concerned with bling and airplay, maybe the best of its kind since Sylk 130’s When the Funk Hits the Fan. Even so, it’s much more than just a souvenir from a radio show.


John Bergstrom has been writing various reviews and features for PopMatters since 2004. He has been a music fanatic at least since he and a couple friends put together The Rock Group Dictionary in third grade (although he now admits that giving Pat Benatar the title of "first good female rocker" was probably a mistake). He has done freelance writing for Trouser Pressonline, Milwaukee's Shepherd Express, and the late Milk magazine and website. He currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with his wife and two kids, both of whom are very good dancers.

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