(by Dave Hucker, "Hey, Mr. Music" column, The Beat magazine, Volume 19, Number 2, 2000)
"Guilty as charged your honor, and proud of it." I stand before the court of musical progress accused of being an old fogey, a miserable, mid-dle-aged git stuck in a Booker T time warp. But, I say, bring back the majestic swirling sound of the Hammond B3 organ, preferably fitted with a Leslie horn. Hell, I'd even settle for the cheap, tinny, quavery sound of a rinky-dink Farfisa organ.
I know that such heretical thoughts are a hanging matter in the modern digital world. But I am so sick of modern keyboard synthesizers, with their horrible car-wash sound and their pathetic attempts to imitate a proper horn section. Their bargain-basement qualities have debased so much music now. It's gotten so bad I can hardly bear to listen to lots of modern African music, mainly because of the rampant overuse of this object that is, in my opinion, laughingly called an instrument.
I have no problem listening to the late, great Jackie Mittoo and his various organs and keyboards any time of the day or night. There is a really interesting compilation just out which covers some of his more obscure funky jazzy reggae cuts for Studio One. The Keyboard King at Studio One (Universal Sound) comes from under the wing of London's Soul Jazz record label. In the early '90s djs on the English jazz/funk scene found that when they played Jackie Mittoo tunes in their sessions the boys and girls went wild. They hit on the grooves of numbers like "Juice Box," and soon many of Jackie's tunes had become staples in the scene's musical constitution. In the jazz/funk world they have always had a healthy respect for the Hammond. Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland and Big John Patton are the gods of the Hammond for them, and Jackie was certainly up there in the pantheon of keyboard wizards.
This collection, though firmly aimed at the market Soul Jazz understands, is of great general interest: Apart from having all these tunes together in one place, there is the added bonus that the tracks are mastered properly so the sound is nice and clear. This double album is also pressed on nice new vinyl, so you can put away all those scratchy old Studio One pressings.
There is another compilation out on Soul Jazz called Barrio Nuevo that features a real obscurity from the late '70s by Patti LaBelle, which is a straight montuno done funky. Titled "Teach Me Tonight ( Me Gusta Tu Baile)," this storming song, sung in English, has Patti giving it her all in a screaming wail-out. When this was originally released on a 7" single, the tune was split up into A and B sides, and the second half is where it gets crazy. On Barrio Nuevo they have used the full un-bisected version.
A cd that keeps creeping back into the machine at home is Descendants by Grupo Vocal Desandann (Bembé). The sumptuous swathe of vocals emanating from this a cappella group based in eastern Cuba constantly brings a lump to the throat. Waves of immigration from Haiti to Cuba over two centuries created this intriguing mix-up. I never knew that this very deep vocal area of Haitian/Cuban music existed at all, so thanks to Bembé for bringing it to our attention. Put this on and drift away to a land of soulful vocal perfection and waves of rhythmical subtlety.
A cracking little brace of some drumbo-jumbo comes in the form of two releases from San Francisco's Ubiquity label and their Latin jazz imprint, Cubop. First up master drummer Francisco Aguabella treats us to a rootsy jazzy workout on his H2O album. Originally released in '96, H2O continues Cubop's program of re-releasing hard-to-find classics. A potent raw, rough sound rips through and carries the jazzy grooves across to your feet. This is very tough, top-quality music from the drummer who Dizzy Gillespie once said is "the John Coltrane of the conga drum." There are also a couple of stonking dancers here in the form of "Quien Eres Tu" and "Nena." Unfortunately jazz-Latin fusions often end up sounding a bit fluffy and mushy, sort of like the furballs that cats sick up, or else all the fancy instrumental twiddles and twangs and clever arrangements end up going nowhere but up someone's backside or cocktail lounge. Not here: H2O is undiluted.
The other Cubop release comes from Bay Area veterans John Santos and Machete. His Tribute to the Masters is a superlative, innovative exploration through the Afro-Latin jazz traditions, defined by the great jazz masters and Cuban drummers in the '40s and '50s who created the classics. Chano Pozo's "Tin Tin Deo" opens up the proceedings, and Miles Davis' timeless "So What" gets what is described as a "mambo twist" to great effect. John Santos and his extended Bay Area familia have over the years created an impressive and creative movement in the West Coast jazz-Latin scene. This cd cements further his position as a leading player.
I have not come across many books about deejaying, especially sensible ones, that successfully, intelligently and lucidly talk about all aspects of the arcane world of this 20th century phenomena. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton (Grove Press-U.S./Headline-U.K.) is the tome which changes all that. Subtitled The History of the Disc Jockey, this fantastically informative, thought-provoking and fun read comprehensively covers dj hotspots and disgorges great wads of useful raw information. Chapters cover the main areas of influence, and the authors correctly intertwine the streets and clubs of '80s Manhattan with the '60s English Northern Soul club meccas of the Twisted Wheel and Wigan Casino through the English '70s soul all-dayers and the Goldmine in Essex.
There is a history of the radio dj, and the fledgling club world of America and England is discussed at length, as are the tributaries of the various musical streams that have gone on to create club music over the last 30 years. Philly soul rubs shoulders with reggae, hip-hop and rap. Disco and garage gets a look in as does Chicago house and onto the realm of the nightmare of house music in all its forms. All get a very expert going-over; the collected knowledge of the authors and their research is bountiful. The ease with which they serve up the information and its warm and funny readability are very impressive.
In the book you are taken on the journey through what I consider one of the most important cultural movements the world has seen even though I, as a club dj myself, could be accused of a biased self-interest here. Many interesting themes are explored about what a dj actually does and what it really means. What they can create, even though all they do is play other people's music. This book has actually provoked much praise and conversation among us old cynical hacks-sorry, I got that wrong, that really should be "professional" club djs. Damn it, here is a book that keeps us saying, "Yes that's true," "spot on mate," "that's right," "I never knew that." Last Night A DJ Saved My Life can be read and thoroughly enjoyed by anyone-you do not have to have a vested interest. I'm convinced that it will also become a text-book classic, an essential reference book much studied by sociology students in the future as they do their essays on ancient cultures.
The way that I describe what I personally do as a dj practicing his art-and yes, it is an art-is that I am taking people on a (wooden) roller-coaster ride with music. You've got the slow uphill bits, the mad rush downhill, the twists, the gentle turns, the vibrations, the gentle spins, the sound of rattling treble and booming bass. No teeth-clenching white-knuckle experience with me. When I start playing, it's like I've got a blank canvas in front of me, the dance floor. And I attempt to paint and fill it in with sound as color and rhythm as texture. But what I also find interesting is that at the end of the evening, what I have created just disappears into the air. It then exists only in people's memories.
When the definitive history of clubland comes to be written, the development of acid house will be pinpointed as one of those pivotal moments of change. Certainly if it had not happened you would not have had some of the examples of what I would call African house music that you find on the latest Indestructible Beat of Soweto, Vol. 6:, South African Rhythm Riot (Earthworks/Stern's). This steps fearlessly into the sound of modern S.A. with tracks from the great Brenda Fassie, including a duet with Papa Wemba. Big thumpers come from new stars Arthur, gospel group Pure Magic, and Chicco. There are some classic oldies in there as well from the Mahotella Queens. So volume six is well up to the standard of the series, and provides a entertaining snapshot of late-'90s S.A. action.
An advance copy of Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca's new release São Salvador (Putumayo) has been whipping up dance-floor fever for me over here. This cd is a another major step forward for Ricardo and his band. There is a wide range of grooves and bumps, from the opening track "Le Rendez-vous," which is classic Afro-Latin Ricardo-style (and the big track on the floor), which powers along with vocals in Lingala. In fact this is a very multilingual album, flipping between Lingala, English, Spanish and even Portuguese on the title track. As a rule all the songs are pretty strong: It has a punchy sound and kicking arrangements as it moves through the rhythms of the African diaspora. Even beaty experiments like "Nganga Kisi," a rap-Espanol-type of offering with great girl backing vocals works very well. Top notch, Ricardo.
What if I had been subject to one of those little accidents of life, one of those points where you get pushed into a route you did not plan, where you get dumped into a situation which is out of your control? What if I had not ended up as a dj but had stumbled into being a politician? Then, worse than that, if I had also ended up in the unfortunate situation of being the current English Prime Minister? Then I would take advantage of my position of patronage and cronyism to appoint Steve Barrow of the Blood and Fire label to the House of Lords. Not only should he be elevated to the rarefied atmosphere of the upper house purely for his various services to Jamaican music, but if only to get what's left of the nobs, toffs and old duffers skanking in the aisles as Lord Barrow of E15 gives a passionate speech about Dennis Alcapone, and why dub should be freely available on the National Health, along with the urgent need for many more reds under the beds.
Mr. Barrow's latest offering is Cornell Camp-bell's I Shall
Not Remove 1975-80. It is a lip-smackingly wondrous
selection of great tunes from one of the great and very underrated voices
of Jamaica. You get Cornell's sweet falsetto floating over the Gorgon trilogy,
his hugely popular series of sound hits. The crisp Tubby's production and
lashings of Chinna Smith's "chicka chicka" guitar make this a
tasty retro roast. And as always you get the Blood and Fire attention to
detail, where the dubs and toasts are spliced together seamlessly, like
on "Dance in A Greenwich Farm" where you get the equally underrated
Dr. Alimantado merrily puffing away with his "Chalice Blaze" toast.
The righteous call of "Two Faced Rasta" still sounds as fresh
as the day it was recorded in '74. This superlative compilation is topped
out by the classic "Bandulu" with its crisp Black Uhuru-ish sound
and its Tom Dooley hangman storyline transposed to King-ston. The toast
of this cut by Ranking Dread turned out to be one of those highly ironic
coincidences. Mr. Dread should have heeded Cornell's words about the need
to "not follow bad company" and "bad company call lead you
astray." This is the same Ranking Dread who became a notorious and
very violent criminal in England. Branded as an original Yardie, he was
deported to Jamaica and eventually ended up like Bandulu, hanging from a
gallows in Kingston Jail.
Copyright 2000 Dave Hucker