As a confirmed househead and Los Angeles resident, it's hard for me to give a wholly objective review of anything by Marques Wyatt. This guy, you see, is the house DJ on the L.A. scene, and has been for over a decade. He pretty much single-handedly introduced the City of Angels to the deep, soulful style of house associated with New York and San Francisco, and his club, Deep, has given me the chance to hear house heavyweights like King Britt, Miguel Migs, and Mark Farina the only way they should be heard -- in an intimate room full of sweaty, ass-shaking, fellow devotees of smooth basslines and 4/4 grooves. Me and a whole lot of other people in this town owe Marques many fantastic nights on the dancefloor.
So, for me, reviewing a Marques Wyatt release is a little like a devout Catholic reviewing a book by the Pope, or at least Mel Gibson. I'd have to be some base blasphemer to tell you his CD was anything less than excellent, right?
Well, slap a "Hello, My Name is Base Blasphemer" sticker on me on my next trip to Deep, because I can't give Horizons an unqualified rave, though I can say it's a solid, varied house set with a few moments of real brilliance. My main complaint here is the same one I've always had for Wyatt's mix CDs and DJ sets, which is that he makes the house-as-religion metaphor a little too apt -- he's a little too fond of positive vibes and spiritual overtones for his own good, sometimes laying out the sermons and uplifting organ chords at the expense of ever really building a sustained groove. Having said that, there's only two tracks here that really overtly preach, so this set is more restrained than more holy-roller Wyatt outings, like his recent contribution to the United DJs of America series.
The first of those two tracks is the one with which Wyatt opens his set (following some lame inspirational poetry from Omega), and it's a gem even a crusty agnostic like yours truly can love, a soaring piece of hallelujah house from Intense & Voices of 6 Ave called "You Gotta Believe". Trite, yes, but that slinky bassline and strident backing chorus made a believer out of me. The next track is even better, a buttery-smooth deep house song called "Musica" from S.O.M., featuring the sultry Portuguese vocals of Barbara Mendes -- not a true Latin house track, but Mendes gives the tune that little extra bit of Brazilian insouciance it needs to make its seductive vibe impossible to resist.
After this great one-two opener, Horizons settles into solid but less stellar house fare, serving up some disco-flavored vocals on Kathy Brown's "Never Again", getting jazzy on a fairly pedestrian dub mix of Mark Grant's "Girl with U", taking it down into funkier territory on Walter Jones's "GC'S Theme", then bringing it back up with the pretty synth strings of Los Hermanos' sunny, bouncy "Quetzal". The only curveball he throws in the disc's first half is Jon Cutler's mix of E-Man's "Slangin'", an entertainingly playful scat laid over a stripped-down beat that unfortunately just goes on too long.
Antonio Ocasio's "Echu Aye" injects a note of Afro-beat into the proceedings, then things get preachy again, as Sicania Soul's cloying "Starlite" urges us to "just follow the starlight shining inside your soul, 'cause we are all made of stars". (Hey, didn't Moby already tell us this?) Throughout it all, however, Wyatt's tracks have a pleasantly Latin/African shuffle filling out their underlying four-on-the-floor beats, and Osunlade's "Same Thing" is no exception, a jazzy track propelled by a samba-like beat and Maiya James's honey-sweet vocals. Ms. Kesha G.'s "Sun Will Shine" gets even jazzier, with tinkly piano and bright synth chords, led by a wonderful percussive hook and more gospelly vocals. Here again, Wyatt gets away with preaching to the choir, with lyrics that mostly just celebrate the secular joys of "sun, sun, sun, summertime" and a beat that celebrates house music's bouncier side.
The closing track comes from one half of the legendary Masters at Work duo, Little Louie Vega, who gets all Brazilian with the help of singer Anané on "Nos Vida". It gives us more uplifting vibes, but not much of a groove, as the track's syncopated beats are subdued beneath a hazy sheen of piano keys, horns, and Anané's breathy, multilayered vocals.
I guess the fairest way I can sum up Horizons -- because Wyatt is one of those artists who has earned the right to a fair review -- is to say that if you like your house music light, breezy, and laced with lots of Latin beats, jazz chords, and gospel vocals, then this is the disc for you. Personally I like my beats with a little more bite, but that's never been Wyatt's bag, and there's nothing wrong with that.