[4 March 2002]
If you have yet to discover the predominantly instrumental, vaguely techno, but still pretty jazz and soul-tinged house that NRK have been exploring recently, then this is probably as good a place as any to join the adventure. If you are already familiar with NRK’s uncanny ability to find some of the tastiest items from that might fit that demanding bill, then you will need no invitation whatsoever. NRK’s compilations are essential purchases for anyone interested in intelligent, forward-looking but funky and floor-filling dance music.
This release is so straightforward it might have been a little too obvious, or even crass. It is, as it states, a collection of NRK singles (all of which have been favourably received) from the past 18 months. Never ones for the lazy option though, NRK have added, to the unmixed singles CD, a Jamie Anderson mix CD, which by itself would have stood head and shoulders over most current dance compilations. So even if you own most of the first offering, which you may well do if you like classy house music, you will still need to obtain this package. Not fair, really, but there you go.
CD one contains two Nick Holder tracks, two from Miguel Migs and one each from Audio Soul Project, Sirus, Akabu (Joey Negro), Joeski and Chus, Twisted Pair and Jamie Anderson. At this point, in the light of that line-up, any reviewer could justifiably rest their case. These names all stand for the well-crafted, the melodic and the inventive. They only differ in the nature of their prime influences. If your tastes are a little more discofied and jazz-funky, head first for Akabu and Nick Holder. If the dubbier or more tribal sounds are your bag, try Miguel Migs or Audio Soul Project. It doesn’t matter really, you will end up enjoying the lot.
The radio edit of Holder’s much compiled, but also much loved, “Sambafrique” kicks things off. Holder gets the last word too with the Lexicon Avenue mix of “Inside Your Soul”. These and the MIgs’ tracks are probably my favourites. They are, in dance terms, almost standards by now but it says something for the Bristol-based labels ear for quality that, well-worn as they are, they still sound crisp and fresh. The infectiousness of “Sambafrique” should have reached the point of irritation by now but hasn’t. Similarly, the mood music that Migs delivers should have lost some of its charm, as has happened to some of the more ambient West Coast productions. Again, this is not the case for the material on this album.
That’s the trick. It is not just that this is some of the most satisfying music around, but that these come close to being its prize specimens. They don’t just typify mellow but intense club music, they represent it at it’s most convincing. Migs’ “Dubpusher” and Holder’s “Inside Your Soul” both build up an atmosphere that overwhelms me every time I hear them. That feeling of losing yourself inside the rhythms that characterises the best of house since the early Chicago days finds plenty of modern instances in these full versions. Try Chus and Joeski’s late night groover (“El Amor”) for another good example.
Much to my surprise, I have found myself playing the Anderson mix more than the first side. This despite the fact that Anderson’s own stripped down “They See Nothing” is the most skippable cut on CD one. His sequencing produces a more varied and soulful experience than I had expected and benefits greatly from the alternate takes and extra selections he uses. Anderson’s clean, pure technoid preferences are there but the reggae, latin and funk elements are blended in well. It’s a gem of a set, serving as showcase for Anderson’s own aesthetic without destroying the character of the tunes.
This is much more than a cashing in, treading water exercise. Switching easily between deep house that has bite and darker rhythms that remain funky and fluid, it is impressive fare from start to finish. It may be said that there is nothing really new here and that it mines a fairly narrow seam. To that I would say listen more closely. There is weight and substance to nearly all the numbers. Each differs in emphasis and reference, perhaps only slightly but always tellingly. The vibe is maintained, and it is a much warmer one than some of these acts are generally credited, but there is distinctiveness too. Good club music should always work like that.
What is more this works at home too. That is a sure sign of solid musicality and I don’t care if that is a classic Dad Houser’s statement. NRK are setting a high standard for themselves, one that has put them in the forefront of the UK’s more discerning labels. This set concentrates on the US connection, which is no bad thing given some of the recent trends on the UK front. While music as good as this keeps coming out of the club underground, the faith in dance music that some of us struggle to keep alive is easily restored.