Agent K: Feed the Cat

Maurice Bottomley

Agent K

Feed the Cat

Label: Giant Step
US Release Date: 2003-07-29
UK Release Date: 2002-05-13

Feed the Cat came out in the UK a couple of years back (on Modaji's Laws of Motion imprint). It was well received but somehow didn't propel Kaidi Tatham (Agent K) into the limelight in quite the way one might have expected. He remained, as he has been for some time, respected rather than lionised. Almost everybody agrees that he is the most talented of the new wave of producers, but somehow his work hasn't been picked up on outside the fairly self-contained "West London" scene.

Tatham is part of the Bugz in the Attic crew and has worked successfully with Modaji, New Sector Movements, 4 Hero, Donnie, and Neon Phusion as well as on his own projects (Afronaughts, etc.). He is a multi-instrumentalist whose debt to '70s and '80s funk and soul is openly acknowledged. The beats may be 21st century, but Tatham is a jazz-funkster at heart. Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and Roy Ayers are the foundations upon which this music is built. And very strong foundations they are.

Fortunately, Giant Step are in the process of making themselves the guardians of all things contemporary yet soulful in the dance world. In pursuit of this worthy goal, they have re-issued this album -- and just in case you already own it have added two crucial re-mixes, so, sorry, but you need it again. Future soul, new jazz-funk, nu soul are all clumsy titles, but probably better than "broken beats" to describe a set that sounds even better now than on first hearing. Even compilation warhorse, the breezy "Ladies", still charms rather than irritates.

That represented the "sweet" side of Tatham. His moody, funkier side is best heard on the Hancock/Headhunters inspired "Orbit". Basically, though, Feed the Cat is a tasteful balancing act between the two. Excessively tasteful for some, I imagine; if it's the harder drum 'n' bass end of "broken beats" that appeals to you, then you will find Agent K too smooth by half. The title track, for example, is more '80s disco funk than Parliament. The music is forward-looking and experimental but within clearly defined parameters.

The additional tracks are interesting, being re-workings of the Carleen Anderson sung "Rideaway, Getaway". In its original form (a very London post-acid jazz affair), it is given two extremely fine house-derived interpretations by DJ Spinna and Blaze respectively. Both versions improve the song, Anderson's vocals benefiting particularly. Spinna turns it into a rather Incognito-ish modern soul swayer while Blaze give it that ethereal EWF sound that is their trademark. I can envisage either take gracing any number of dance-floors, but the Spinna one does it for me.

Apart from Anderson, Izzi Dunn, Vanessa Freeman, and Don Ricardo make strong contributions, confirming that Tatham is more vocally-oriented than most post-acid jazz efforts. Not that the instrumentation leaves anything to be desired. His talents as flautist and keyboardist (especially on "Armz R Deh") deserve particular mention and, unlike many similar projects, the production avoids that sense of clutter and overly busy arrangements.

As a whole, this is an album that sidles up to you rather than grabs you straight away, which may explain why it resonates more impressively this time around. With Giant Step on a roll this year (and with the likes of Spinna, Ron Trent, and Blaze now behind him) Tatham should now reap his due rewards. You do need to be a soul fan, and possibly one who a few years ago liked the Brand New Heavies or Jhelisa, to get the most out of it, but others should at least investigate Tatham's personal take on those skipping, shuffling beats. Feed the Cat represents the friendly face of UK club Modernism, and let's hope America likes it.

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