Not many artists survived disco’s crash and burn, but DJ/producer François Kevorkian (or François K as he now likes to be called — maybe he was getting tired of “Dr. Death” jokes) has somehow managed to be one of them. Rising from the cocaine-covered ashes of New York’s club scene in the early ’80s, François K went on to produce remixes for everyone from Mick Jagger to U2, and launched his own record label, Wave Music, in 1994. This sort of longevity is almost unheard of the ephemeral world of dance music, and what’s all the more remarkable is that Mr. K hasn’t really spent much of that time chasing the latest trends — to a degree, he’s still making disco records, and true to form, there are sassy divas and snappy high-hats aplenty to be found on Deep and Sexy, his latest DJ mix compilation.
To younger househeads, the disco elements will probably make Deep and Sexy an unpalatable slab of cheese, but old schoolers will delight in the album’s electic mix of corny dancefloor stompers and jazzy, deep house workouts. Like many DJ mix compilations, it’s a bit inconsistent, and François K’s emphasis is clearly more on cramming as many good songs on to one disc as possible, rather than creating a seamless mix — his segues are pretty perfunctory at times. But there are enough seminal tracks included here, and enough of a warm, bouncy vibe throughout, to make the disc well worth recommending to anyone who doesn’t mind their house a little discofied.
François starts things out sleek and slow with the gently see-sawing synths of Fluid X’s “Change”, a track co-written by Kevorkian himself and New York house producer Rob Rives. The album’s first high-hat kicks in at about the two-minute mark, and from there it’s a smooth ride on the track’s disco/deep house riffs into a Kevorkian remix of Blue Six’s “Do Ya Like It?” Considering the talent levels involved, this track is surprisingly unengaging — not bad, but hardly the standout you’d expect from a collaboration between Kevorkian and Naked Music maestro Jay Denes. Even further off the mark is ADNY’s “Omato Grosso”, a pretty but unbearably shlocky Afro-Cuban jazz track with too much new agey guitar work and a vocal chorus that sounds way too much like “Kum-bay-yah” to be taken seriously.
Things get more promising with the equally jazzy but more sophisticated “Driftin'”, a lovely deep house jam from the French trio Sun Orchestra, featuring fantastic piano from Olivier Portal. Then François drops Nathan Haines’ mega-hit “Earth is the Place” and kicks the mix into high gear. “Earth is the Place” epitomizes everything househeads will either love or hate about Deep and Sexy — on the one hand, it has an irresistible groove propelled by a percussive bass riff and space-jazz synths, on the other hand, it has lyrics that only a drag queen could love — “I’m blue when I wanna be blue / I’m green when I wanna be mean / I’m red when I’m outta my head / And I’m yellow when I wanna be seen . . . ‘Cuz I’m a woman”. Personally, I hated the track at first listen, but its campiness, and the deadpan conviction with which house diva Verna Francis belts out those lines, eventually won me over to it.
François then brings his mix into more Latin house territory, starting with his own irresistible hip-shaker “Enlightenment”, which is highlighted by some terrific high-strung guitar licks by Pedro Gomes (one of the nicest things about Deep and Sexy is that it actually credits many of the live musicians in the liner notes — a rarity with much dance music, which would apparently prefer to have you believe that every last note was magically squeezed out of some producer’s laptop). I was less enchanted with Eric Kupper’s “Havana”, which lays it on a bit thick with too many layers of disco horns and melodramatic piano vamps, and Boyd Jarvis’ “Sunny Days” also gets pretty corny, with a long, ballpark organ solo and some Pat Metheny-esque jazz fusion vocals. If you can ignore the silliness, however, both tracks have loads of great percussion to keep your feet moving.
François segues awkwardly back into deep house territory with Papillon’s “Strong Blend”, one of the mix’s more subtle tracks, and one of its best, with a crafty bassline that slowly leads the track down into some very funky depths. Milk & Honey’s “Touch” is almost a straight disco track, complete with slap bass and a vocoder lead — fun, but nothing to write home about unless you really miss the days of Donna Summer and wide collars. François finishes with a terrific one-two punch, however — Blue Six’s masterful “Sweeter Love” and Moments of Soul’s “Love Is”. I’ve raved before about “Sweeter Love”, which just might be the perfect deep house anthem, with an unforgettable bassline and great vocals courtesy of Lysa, that rare house diva who understands the value of understatement. Wisely, François K saves his best segueway for last, moving seemlessly from “Sweeter Love”‘s bouncy rhythm into the smoother vibe of “Love Is”, which has one of those blissed-out grooves that old school househeads never get tired of. It’s a great comedown from a mix that’s a little long on cheese, but never short on warmth or infectious rhythms. Kudos to François K for not selling out to the latest dance floor trends, and continuing to produce and play tracks that echo those glory days of the New York disco scene.