Mikael Delta: Halcyon Days

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By Maurice Bottomley

This smooth selection of Deep House vibes comes from Athens, Greece, hardly the first place that springs to mind when thinking of that most subtle of Dance sub-genres. I know Demis Roussos once made a record that got on The Loft’s hallowed playlist but generally the Hellenic contribution to club culture has been more in the way of sun, sand and sangria. HHowever, if this record gets the response it deserves, all that could change and Greece could join the growing number of European countries currently challenging American supremacy in providing those jazzy and ambient grooves so necessary to off-set the world domination of Trance.

Distance was an obvious outfit to pick up on this artist. Apart from being major purveyors in the deeper stuff they have scored particularly heavily with Maryland’s finest, producer/DJ/guitarist Kevin Yost. Parts of this record sound very like Yost and the label is pushing the connection. In some ways this is actually superior product. It doesn’t quite have the weight or the moodiness that Yost manages to engender, but it is, conceptually and musically, far more varied. Those who felt that Yost had run out of ideas on his latest album might care to try Mikael Delta. Most of Delta’s inspiration is jazz-driven and, in addition to Yostites, the army of home-clubbers who found out about jazz house through the ridiculously popular St. Germain will also find this set very much to their taste.

The mixture of live instruments and programming is just about right and an element Delta has over those two heavyweights of the scene is his feel for classically-influenced arrangements. Not too many House records have a cellist named on the sleeve notes, but this has—Nickos Veliotis. Alongside live trumpet, flute, sax, bass, organ and two guitars, the cello Delta a richer musical palette than is usual and he makes the most of it. The resulting canvas is eclectic but impeccably organised. Its gentle funkiness will be far too seemly and restrained for some but it is not hard to imagine many of the tracks being championed by Rainer Truby or Patrick Forge. As they represent the elite of jazz-house DJs, we are talking quality.

Only one thing prevents this being among the very best of 2001’s many fine Deep House offerings. The vocals are not too clever. It is not catastrophic—most cuts are instrumental—but it is a pity. Delta himself, Yanis Mobil and a chap called Panos share the actual songs and they are all simply a little unimpressive. The real nightmare is Jane Richards’ spoken vocals on the title track. Now I know it is standard practice to have a French or a Spanish female voice breathily talking nonsense over a deep track, so maybe an inverse exoticism has played a part. Even so, a posh English voice wittering on about being “back in her Halcyon Days” does nothing for me. In fact is singularly irritating and the worst thing on the record by a long way. Spoken word mutterings in the moodier realms of Electronica tend to be pretty inane at the best of times. Halcyon Days is not the best of times.

Fortunately it is an uncharacteristic lapse in taste. Instrumentally there is hardly a note or phrase out of place in any of the fourteen tunes. The opening scene-setter, “Postcards From You”, is a sensitive exchange between double bass, flute and piano. It doesn’t really go anywhere (and someone ought to tell current producers that there are other classical composers besides Satie) but it makes for a pleasant introduction. The cello ably introduces “In My Heart” and then, just when you think this is going to be a pure downtempo set, that “drive all night” beat favoured by Yost kicks in, while a demented synth swirls effectively over the rhythm. Old school deepness and the most dance-floor directed item. Next up is “Melt”, which boasts a very hip bass pattern and a generous helping of truly fluent muted trumpet. This is a highlight and is also both the jazziest and the most nouveau-Parisian number. “Diving” is the one absolute Yost soundalike but, as it is such a good guitar style to emulate, who can complain? So far, the blend of sounds is just about faultless. Then we hit “Halcyon Days”, which to be fair is melodically and structurally as precise and poised as its predecessors.

By the second half of the album a suspicion of lack of adventure may be voiced, but this is not really the case. One of the problems of the genre is how to sustain that cool mood without becoming too “noodly” or bland. Despite little help from the singers, Delta manages to ring the musical changes just enough to avoid boredom or excessive repetition. There is some sublime sax to be found on “Time Will Show”, for example, while “Love Don’t Matter” employs a “broken beats” rhythm in very West London fashion. “Milk and Honey” even manages to come across as identifiably Greek. All this is done while sticking to the requisite digital drum pattern that the format demands. On the final stretch, reedsman George Yannopoulos switches to flute for one last jazz-house jam, on “Deep Indigo”, before a dubby, percussive “Holy Water” provides a rather dark closing statement. In between these cuts are some effective impressionistic pieces—“The Dawn” for example.

It is a very professional and adept affair. Unsurprisingly, Mikael Delta is a major figure in Greek popular music, working in the mainstream as well as with the dance underground. Accusations of commercialism and bandwagon jumping do not apply, however. He has been making records similar to this for some years now and this is his second full-length “Deep” set. It operates on the sedate, unthreatening wing of the movement; don’t expect Carl Craig or Kerry Dixon Jr. If you want to sway gently or merely chill out to some well crafted, jazz-tinged instrumentals this is as good as anything you are used to hearing on Compost, F-Comm or indeed Distance itself. When Delta finds himself a decent vocalist (somebody like LLorca’s Lady Bird would do nicely) he will make a killer of an album. Until then this will serve its purpose pretty well.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/deltamikael-halcyon/