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A Soul Spectrum Supplement

Maurice Bottomley

Any one comp will give you a fair picture of the possibilities each scene has to offer. One or two will find their way into your lives, as perfect headphone or car driving accompaniment to your summer groove.

Honchos Music Presents
Robotic House Movements
Honchos Music
1 July 2002

Various Artists
8 July 2002

Various Artists
The Tribal Sound of Techno
29 July 2002

24 June 2002

Richard Les Crees
Deep Ibiza Vol.1
i records
15 July 2002

Harry The Bastard
Club H Vol 3
Statra Inc.
15 July 2002 Phil Asher
Headphone House
27 July 2002

I have never quite understood why mix CDs have such a lowly status. After all, they are the nearest we can get at home to the club experience. The problem has been, I think, the crass, chart-oriented nature of the high-profile CDs and the tendency for the same tracks to appear again and again. The other drawback is simply that there are so many of the bloody things. How do you sort out the good from the bad?

One solution is to ignore anything that comes out on a label not known for its commitment to dance music. Turn instead to the specialist teams. Once you have done that it is simply a question of knowing your dance sub-genres. Here mix CDs come into their own. They offer the best way of dipping your toes into genres you sort of like but are not sure about. On top of that, a really well thought out mix can demonstrate the particular style of music at its very best. The recent Marques Wyatt set for Om will tell you all you need to know about soulful, jazzy house if you are unfamiliar with that area. If you are already into that vibe, then you have struck gold.

Each of the following CDs represents the cream of the various forms they showcase. The music covers techno, tech-house, electro, deep house, jazz-house, tribal, nu-progressive, soulful house, old school house and probably a few others. Any one comp will give you a fair picture of the possibilities each scene has to offer. One or two will find their way into your lives, as perfect headphone or car driving accompaniment to your summer groove. As an added bonus, hardly any of these albums contains tracks that you already have nine or 10 times already. OK. Eyes down . . .

Peace Division, Nite:Life (NRK)
Regular readers won't need reminding of the general excellence of the Nite:Life series. This 10th collection is well up to par. Peace Division are reputedly Danny Tenaglia's favourite UK crew and this tasteful selection of deep beats, tribalism and mellow, rather than darkly twisted nu-progression, makes it easy to see why the Great One thinks so highly of them. This is being sold as tech-house, but is rather more sweat-stained and earthy than that term usually implies.

More straightforwardly house than I had expected, the consistency and flow of the set is remarkable. Perfect early hours music with highlights including Oscar G versus Styke's rumbling masterpiece "Hypnotised", Solo's disturbing "Cocaine" and the magnificent "I Wanna Be" by Shauna Solomon. The latter is a vocal treat that stands tall in a largely instrumental set.

Peace Division operate from the intelligent wing of UK club culture but this is not simply a cerebral affair. In fact matters get emotionally quite intense with Urban Soul, EFF, Sir Oliver, Box Boy and James Holden all providing superior cuts.

Honchos Music Presents, Robotic House Movements (Honchos Music)
Dark, deep and dangerous. This collection seems to be made up of familiar tracks but they don't sound at all tired, being mostly converted to dub or dub-style versions. Erro's "Change for Me", X-Press 2's "Lazy" and Audio Soul Project's "Community" are staples of the last few months' playlist but appear here in bass-heavy, stripped down form. Funky tech-house? Non-Boring progressive house? Who knows? Forceful and fluid,a little short on vocals but always hard-driving and insistent, this is a purist's take on some popular tunes.

Worth buying for the massive DJ Rasoul track "Oh Baby" alone, it is also a reminder, through the Ricky Montana Mix of "Everything Is Alright", that Audio Soul Project make the best hard-nosed but soulful nu-house around. A little monotone for some, but for the more tribally inclined, a real delight. Finishes with Felix Da Housecat as a nod towards the resurgence of '80s electro sounds on the dancefloor.

Various Electrotech (Compulsive)
Subtitled Electrophunkbasstechnology, this is an attempt at a genre-defying set, designed simply to wallow in the various delights coming from the more overtly electronic acts on the dance circuit. Techno Dons Octave One and Chris Gray line up alongside deep house favourites King Britt and David Alvarado. The atmosphere is shadowy and subterranean, but the groove is subtle and sinuous throughout. I have to say though that this is basically a techno album, albeit a more imaginatively compiled one than is the norm.

Labels you read about but seldom see proliferate here. 430 West, Superstition and Fragmented all mean electro-dance for the techno cognoscenti. Swedish DJ Andreas Bender is on mix duties and rings the musical changes just enough to produce a set that is both "cutting edge" and aurally accessible. Inventive, if a little harsh and jagged at times, the dominant mode is, oddly for so experimental a set, rather back to basics. Try Steve Bug or Hardfloor for examples of modern minimalism, Firefly and Ursula Rucker's "Supernatural" (with a great Derek Carter remix) for something more expansive.

Various, The Tribal Sound of Techno (Compulsive)
Similar territory to the previous offering but a simpler concept. Find 13 tracks that fuse the solid traditions of techno with the recently in-demand percussive,Tribal sound.The result is a set that Steve Lawler could call his own but so could Darren Emerson and,on a mellow day,Carl Cox.Andreas Bender again provides the (accomplished) mixing and the whole thing is a less speculative but probably more floor friendly affair than the Electrotech comp.

Angel Alanis, Reck, Unsung Heroes, 20.5 all contribute drum-fronted, locked-down grooves that take techno into more energetic territory than we have heard lately. A little lacking in textual or emotional variety maybe, but I defy anyone not to find themselves starting to move to the almost primal power of Sound Ritual's "Back in the Jungle" or Gemini's heavy hitting "Sexy Aquarius". Tribal sessions with some digital depth.

Jay J, Reflections (Distance)
Unlike the other mixes this set mostly features the work of just one man, Jay J Hernandes. Best known for his association with Naked Music or some clever tweakings of R&B cuts, Jay J delivers a retrospective of his winning West Coast deep house sound. Straightforward, even predictable, fare for the most part, but a treat for anyone who likes their house flavoursome and with lashings of soul.

Plenty of classic cuts here. Stephanie Cooke's "Rain" always does the business as does "Remember Chicago", one of several Jay J collaborations with Julius Papp. Chris Lum and Miguel Migs are his other two main co-conspirators and you need no greater recommendation than that. This is the deep elite in top form. Multi-faceted, black-based dance, the CD boasts the disco-inspired "I Will follow" (Uno Mas) as well as moodier numbers like "Smoke It Up". This mixture of mellowness and funky danceability is hard to fault. If you had trouble chasing up the various Afterhours, Antidote and Siesta tracks gathered together here, then Reflections saves you hours of searching. It also features "A Little Bit of Jazz", one of the loveliest pieces of recent times. Sophisticated, soulful and sublime, which also sums up the album pretty well.

Richard Les Crees, Deep Ibiza (i records)
Don't be put off by the Ibiza tag and focus instead on the label. i records means Kevin Yost and laid-back, jazzy house. Right, keep that in mind, but up the tempo to disco/jazz-funk rate and this is the result. Eloquent guitar runs, female chorus chants, some cod-Braziliana and a general summery vibe means this is a very apt release for this time of year. Yost features strongly and Les Crees himself, but Papp and Warren, the wonderful Fish Go Deep and other worthies are also on board. Smooth and very musical, this will seem a trifle bland to those who like their beats a little rougher. Jazz and soul heads will be in heaven.

Papp and Warrin's "Aquatic", Yost v Funk's "The Way You Are" and Fish Go Deep's "Flying Funk" all live somewhere between lounge and the big room floor and all impress. Les Crees' "Chanikaa" and The Soul Immigrants "Ocean" are particularly fine, the first being all George Duke '70s-ish and the second the most winning, bassline-led piece of keyboard-rich jazz-house I've heard for a while. This selection may strike some as too retro but it is undeniably warm, deeply luxurious and somewhat bouncier than you might have guessed. A good opener to what is bound to be a successful series.

Harry the Bastard, Club H Vol 3 (Statra Inc.)
How good is this? If you have the first two club house CDs or know anything of New Yorker Harry Russell's legendary sessions you will know. Deep house, jazzy techno of the first order. Avoiding the obvious -- some new stuff, some old -- these are nearly all tunes to die for. Nothing ephemeral about these mixes either. From Yello's neglected "Moon on Ice" and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra-sampling "In My Lucid Dream" by Cold Feet to the maverick genius of Carl Craig's "Dominas", this is an album of distinctive and definitive deep classics.

Nick Holder, Atjazz, Kenny Larkin and Miguel Migs have some of their best work borrowed for our benefit and the mix is seamless and sure-footed. This man has taste to spare. Whether it's the Spanish guitar of Cantoma's "Pandajero" or the Bensonesque excursion that is Karl the Voice's "Music is My Life", the instrumental touches are always on the button and the organic feel so strong its difficult to remember that this is sample-led, digital music. The set moves through a number of phases (crudely, from deep house to techno) but works as an absorbing and inspired single journey. One to keep and cherish.

Phil Asher, Headphone House (Slip'n'Slide)
Now here's a rarity -- a reissued mix session. On its initial airing back in 1996 Headphone House called attention to the fact that there was this side of house emerging that drew as much on the general continuum of black dance music as it did from specific Detroit or Chicago manipulated drum-synths and 808s. Louie Vega, Kenny Dixon Jr., Moodymann, Blaze, Mood 11 Swing and Romanthony all provided tracks for what can be now seen as a watershed album.

It holds up exceptionally well and even some of the datedness is endearing. Budgets seem low and the productions are primitive, in a way we would expect '80s house to sound but not music so relatively recent. But classiness is everywhere and quickly overrides any such technical reservations.

Outstanding moments include Romanthony's "The Wanderer" (still his finest hour), a low-down and dirty "Emotional Content" from Dixon, Blaze's "Fantasy" and (as Black Rascal) "So in Love". Both those cuts show the New Jersey outfit, then as they are now, the to be the kings of EWF-inspired soulful house. Mood11Swing are smoother and jazzier than we remember them while Asher himself contributes a well-arranged slice of West London boogie with "Over the Moon". Stirring sounds for soulboys and househeads alike.

So, over nine hours of well thought out music, put together by those who know and love the music. If I had to pick one it would have to be (the unfortunately named) Harry the Bastards's offering. But it's a close call. Have fun deciding which particular set most appeals to you, but do check out at least some of these offerings. You will never be dismissive of mix CDs again.

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