My local record store has got so fed up trying to keep up with all the amoebic sub-dividing that goes on in electronica-dance genres that it has introduced a catch-all section called French House. This does not delineate country of origin but contains all the soulful, moody, deeper styles that have found a spiritual home in Parisian clubs. The reverence shown to jazz that has always been a part of that city is now, it seems, also being directed towards “real” house music. Labels like Yellow and Distance have sprung up to cater for that market and this CD is as good an example of this devotion to good taste as any. In fact, this is as such a well chosen set that it could serve as an official introduction to this less frenetic end of the dance scene.
Just look at the labels that contribute to the collection. Ibadan, Soundmen On Wax, MAW, Guidance, King Street and Shelter, for instance. All names that mean subtlety and craftsmanship. Then there are the producers, such as Blaze, Louie Vega and Jerome Sydenham. These are pioneers who know their musical history and ensure that house stays true to the traditions of black dance music. The result is music for body and soul that, at its best, is uplifting and magical. Most of the tracks here are pretty close to that peak.
The actual excuse for this feast is the Paris club night Respect. Under their banner DJ Deep — my favourite Frenchman, this week — has put a mix together to reflect his smooth but flavoursome sets. It is by no means his first foray in the field — check out his work on Distance. That was good, but this is better. His chosen name is apt, if a little uninventive. A warning — if you like it all 150 bpms and hoovers and horns, this record will sound like chamber music to you. It is, however, sufficiently robust and is definitely a dance album rather than chill-out easy listening — the latter a disturbing tendency of some recent “deep” product. What is on offer are real instruments, digital rhythms, wailing garage vocals, tasty jazz-house and percussion work-outs. The result is a mood somewhere between a Kerri Chandler and a Ron Trent set. That, of course, is about as flattering a comment possible within this type of music. True, though. Forgotten classics, familiar favourites and a few new things make this a journey which is logical and fresh at the same time.
First we get a mini-history lesson. A vocal cut from ’92, “I’m Not Dreaming” — an early Kaos classic — with the rough edges yet to be ironed out, is followed by Logic’s “The Warning”. Yet another of those mysterious, insistent instrumentals that don’t seem to date — it is simple but so hypnotic. The historical perspective established, the best of the newer examples of these twin blueprints follow — run together seamlessly rather than obtrusively “mixed”. I don’t think there is any playing with EQ or filtering — the tracks are laid down and let run almost through. You may want more from a DJ mix, especially, if you already own many of the tunes. It is not really a problem though, as the quality of the music is what counts (or should be).
The remaining vocal numbers include Kimara Lovelace’s “Misery” (Lil Louie Mix) — New York classic house and one of only a handful of dance tracks to actually have a good lyric. Blaze and MAW are represented by “Elements of Life” — stunning — and “How Deep Is Your Love”, which sounds better here than on Blaze’s recent album. Kenny Bobien represents the gospel-house crowd with “Father”. This is OK but I am beginning to tire of that sound. The pick of the bunch is Titus’ “Don’t Worry About Me”, a Toronto production that is new to me. Full of self-pity and pure emotion — it is beautifully sung and exquisitely produced.
On the more instrumental side Sun Orchestra’s “Driftin” flies the flag for France and keyboard-led sophistication. Sometime R&B producer Osunlade and then Ferrer’s The Lost Tribes of Ibadan get all Afrobeatish on two tracks before Kerri C and Jerome Sydenham take things to the highest level with “Winter’s Blessing”. This is perhaps the shape of house to come — jazz-tinged, rhythmically fluid, dangerously mature — the definition of atmospheric. Piano runs, spacey synths, chest-crushing bass, that familiar but still loved drum pattern — it is like the best bits of the album on one track. No, that would be unfair to musicians like virtuoso bassist Gene Perez, or backing vocalist Cyndi Mazelle, or remixers like Frankie Feliciano — all of whom have their moment of magic at various times during the generous 78 minutes album running time. All participants mix the digital and the “live” to great effect. That is the distinctive feature of this sub-species — the organic and the synthesised are not enemies but work together to create a unique old-new feel.
House music. Repetitive and formulaic? Often, but so much more besides. House is, as the saying goes, a feeling. That feeling runs throughout this set, which will be heaven for old house-heads but should attract some newer fans too. France has once again become custodian to a musical style under-appreciated in its country of origin.In years to come these tracks will be highly sought after. Why wait?