[9 December 2008]
It goes without saying that Om Records followers and downtempo fanatics alike have become accustomed to some damn fine party mixes from San Francisco’s DJ Mark Farina. And why wouldn’t they? All of his work in the house scene aside, Farina has been steadily churning out volumes in the Mushroom Jazz series that fail to disappoint. Although many DJs and producers are fully capable of doing just this, and many of them have, Farina is able to blend genres without losing the direction of his mix. Soul joints bleed into old fashioned boom-bap tracks before ebb and flow throughout a downtempo soundscape that captures the feel of all three genres. But that’s not all. He also integrates jazz and funk to spice things up or slow it all down. It all depends on the mood he is trying to capture.
And on this, the sixth Mushroom Jazz volume, Farina paints a musical picture that translates to however you want to hear it. Throw it on before you go out and let the smooth grooves create a soundtrack for your grooming process. Or put in the CD player when your friends show up and treat them to something that can both blend into the background or hold your attention. If neither of those works, give it a spin when you’re winding down after the party. It might seem odd that a disc could fit into three very different scenarios, but that is what makes it work so well. Part of the reason for that is the beat, which remains steady throughout the sprawling 63 minutes. No matter which genre blares out of your speakers, the drums keep everything moving right along, though there are moments where the pace is slowed by less than stellar tracks.
Unlike past volumes of Mushroom Jazz, when Farina used tracks from bigger names like J-Live and Pete Rock, the DJ has focused more on lesser-known, though just as talented, acts like the Jazzual Suspects, relative newcomers who are understandably featured twice. And they kick things off with the jazzy and smooth “This Beat”, a track further highlighted by its drums and piano. Then, the Suspects come back for “Ba Dada”. It’s slightly more in-your-face, though just as jazzy if not funky. Keeping in line with these tracks are the brooding instrumental version of Brawdcast’s “Calm Down” and Jamal’s “Jamal 141”, which isn’t stellar, but it’s tough to not get entranced by the handclap-driven beat. These aforementioned forays into downtempo are eclipsed by efforts from Farina himself and Dave Allison. Farina’s “Life”, his only track on here, builds to a fantastic musical peak and it gets there on the shoulders of a great stand-up bass sample. Allison rivals Farina, though, on the volume-ending “Reflections”, which lets listeners do just as the track implies. But before getting to “Reflections”, you have to sit through the repetitive synth-heavy number “Untitled 005” from Super Smoky Soul.
As interesting as the downtempo joints are, they pale in comparison to the hip-hop tracks. The early-on pairing of Ta’Raach’s J Dilla-esque “Baaaby” with Kero One’s guitar-driven “Groovin’” is, for lack of a better term, perfect. Much of the same goes for the one-two punch of J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science’s “Alive” and Gagle’s “Scene #2”. “Alive”, though it’s the instrumental version, was one of the better cuts of Boogie’s Soul Vibrations and “Scene #2” is jazz-hop at its finest. Although they are not sequenced side-by-side, “The What” from Colossus and Choice 37’s “Way Back When” are equally noteworthy. They blend hip-hop with jazz as well and are undeniably catchy, particularly the horns on “The What”, which also features some hip-hop quotables from the likes of Mobb Deep.
While most of the tracks on here blend well into one another and hold your interest, they also tend to lose their individuality after repeated listens. This really should not be a negative considering this volume, like the ones before it, is meant to be taken as a whole. But it becomes apparent that certain songs demand your attention more than others. As you play the album again and again, certain tracks can become a chore to get through. But those are fairly minor nitpicks. Also, fans of Farina’s past volumes will no doubt pick this up without thinking twice. For those looking to take their first step into Mushroom Jazz, however, it’s recommended that they go for volume four and five first, as they are generally heralded as the best of the series.