[12 June 2002]
My favourite generic neologism at the moment is True School House. It is used to describe sets by DJs like LA’s Marques Wyatt, someone for whom house music is still a black-based musical form. So, if you like crisp, disco tempo beats and lashings of soul, jazz and gospel with your dance then you (and I) like True School House. And what is more, if you will forgive the presumption, we love this CD.
Wyatt has been round for awhile and was in at the inception of both the LA house and acid jazz scene. It may come as a surprise to you that there were such things but labels like Ubiquity, Naked and Om itself—although associated usually with San Francisco grew out of and are reflective of a more statewide phenomenon than, certainly European magazines, generally credit. The West Coast vibe, in these and so many other areas, is generally laid-back. Wyatt is at the funkier end of things but the cool factor is still there. In a superbly mixed and soulful selection, the type of outing that brought him to Louie Vega’s and Miami’s attention in 1996, he presents a range of music that is popular on CD, finds critical favour from old and young heads alike but can only be heard out at the more subtle nights.
One of those is DEEP at Vinyl in Hollywood where Marques, after seven years at the wonderfully named after-hours venue, Does Your Mama Know?, now holds court. Like so many of the best deep house events (Body and Soul or Lazy Dog) this takes place on a Sunday. It is a shame that Fridays and Saturdays worldwide have been given over to lesser forms of dance, but at least one day a week has been reserved for the wealth of quality music that is currently captured under my newly-found banner of True School House.
So we have some gospel, nu-disco from Erro, Afrobeat from Mafikozolo and Ola Jagun, smooth soul from Shaun Escoffery, plenty of jazz,and a little Lounge and West Coast dub. All of these should be hyphenated with the word house as each item is undoubtedly that, but such is the spread of other influences that the often heard charges of uniformity and repetition do not in the least apply. The music emanates from a wide geographical area and is linked only in overall mood, one which is warm and welcoming. If there is a better collection of all that is mellow and uplifting on the club circuit this year then I will be much surprised.
Wyatt’s own current floor filler “For Those Who Like to Get Down” gets the mix off to a flying start. This is one of the most infectious tunes around and makes good use of what I think is that Pat Metheny riff that Nick Holder nicked wholesale for “Sambafrique”. The sampled spoken voice works better than that now tiresome device usually does and the whole feel of the track is melodic but squarely aimed at getting the body moving. In the light of this, last year’s top disco-flavoured delight, Erro’s “Change for Me” is a perfect next choice. This is one of those songs that manages to seem new but sounds as if it would also be at home in the Paradise Garage. Osunlade produces and Joey Negro re-mixes, a combination of Depth and Good Fun that takes some beating.
The first of two outstanding gospel stompers makes it three gems in a row. I have no idea why Slow Supreme have called the track “Green Tea”. In fact I have no idea who Slow Supreme are. I do know that this has got to be the most effective example of cut-up gospel/house since Kerri Kaos’ seminal “Hallelujah”, although much “Green Tea” is more subtle and less frenetic than that in-your-face classic.
So money already well spent and we have not got to track four! But it just does not stop. The other religious cut is Johnson’s “Precious Lord”. Yes, the “Precious Lord”, possibly one of the 10 most important songs in African-American cultural history. Johnson has simply taken a version and laid some old fashioned Chicago 4/4 beats underneath. It should be crass and hopeless but despite an uncertain opening the juxtaposition triumphs towards the end. Odd,possibly blasphemous (musically more than religiously) but ultimately worthy.
Escoffery’s “Days Like This” is another of last year’s anthems and deservedly so. Escoffery is a talented voice on UK soul scene and this is a gentle London groove given a bouncy DJ Spinna Mix. Particularly sprightly trumpet and keyboard solos show, here as elsewhere, that Wyatt has a fondness for “real” instruments to augment the digital beats. The other key vocal effort is Iz and Diz’s smooth “Love Vibe”, whose title suits both that song and most of the album.
Daniel Paul’s “Outer Space” will have you thinking early ‘80s and groups like Atmosfear while the Rurals elegant closer “Rubbersong” will simply start you puzzling about the unlikelihood of Naked Music having a creditable rival based in bucolic Devon. The reworking by Kerri Chandler of Roy Ayers “We Live in Brooklyn” confirms the impression that Wyatt has a fondness for jazz/funk to rival any Essex Soulboy. Interwoven with these cuts are some percussive and powerful Afro-house jams that add weight and authority to what is an absolutely engaging experience.
Om are on a roll at the moment and listening to this set you will start to think we are in a golden age of dance music.Perhaps we are, but you need ears as keen as Wyatt’s to get on to the good stuff. Let’s just be grateful that the hard work has been done and all we have to do is listen and enjoy. I will still be playing this CD come Christmas. Don’t miss out.