February 9, 2007

Marcellus Pittman - Come See

200712"Detroit

Marcellus Pittmann’s music works in the tradition of the Detroit House of which he is the “third chair.” The sound borrows its melodic tastes from ‘70s soul and jazz, and its rhythmic sensibility from the stiffness of elderly drum machines. Moodyman and Theo Parrish (chairs one and two) have always had a considerable talent for extracting pathos from nothing more than a wonky drum loop, a soul sample, and a lot of repetition—and likewise with Pittman’s work here, it’s all about the indefinable atmosphere of the track and the poignant heart that beats beneath an underwhelming surface. “Come See,” the A side, uses a naďve drum groove which bumble-shuffles along under a mesmeric, mechanic riff and Pittmann dropping in some keys every few bars. The B is much more classically “jazzy” sounding, but has the same lumpy, humpy rhythms below it that make the whole thing sound quirkily endearing.

Unirhythm / AR-13354
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[Peter Chambers]


February 2, 2007

3 Chairs - No Drum Machine Pt. 2

200612"DetroitDowntempo

Rick Whilhite, Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pittmann, and Kenny Dixon, Jr. are all quite capable of getting it done on their own, and so when they get together, something special usually happens, but this four-tracker of shag-carpet deeposity is a bit more abstract than you might expect. The title track opens things with a bongo-and-organ riff that shuffles along through deep space, flashes of noise and other weird bits whizzing by as if they don’t have a care in the world. This is light years from the sort of floor-fillers you might expect, but “Camillion” gamely tries to move asses with some intricate hi-hat patterns and jazzy chords and riffs, and “Congo Mambo” moves in a Latin direction while staying dead mellow and low-key. The sample heavy and thoroughly filtered “BABO” is a bit puzzling (and also sorta funky), but this is clearly music aimed at the after hours set rather than peak time, and at that, it succeeds beautifully.

Three Chairs / 3CH 6
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[Todd Hutlock]


July 12, 2006

In the Mix: Michael F. Gill - “Blue On Blue”

Mixes2006House

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As summer begins and the sweat rings begin to glow off of my forehead, I find myself drifting towards the hazy melancholy and organic warmth of deep house instead of the chill of minimal techno and electro. This mix reflects these thoughts and feelings…

01 Dubtribe Sound System - We Used To Dance (Intro) - Imperial Dub 1996

A short string intro from a track that appears later on the mix, DSS tell us about their first time they heard house music in San Francisco (”That’s a long story,” they say, but manage to tell in like forty seconds,) recalling a faithful night that Doc Martin switched from an all hip-hop set to four on the floor…

02 Quentin Harris - Let’s Be Young (Trackheadz Remix) - NRK Sound Division 2005

I first heard this at one of the last deep house nights in Boston and was pretty transfixed by the beauty of the string lines compared to over-the-top synthetic horns, which apparently are straight from a preset in Apple’s Garageband. The Trackheadz remix removes most of the trumpet excess to focus back on the yearning violins.

03 Club Artists United - Sweet Chariot (Dramatic Dub) - Nervous 1998

Ending this opening string trio is Kerri Chandler’s mix of “Sweet Chariot,” a complete reworking of the diva-ish original into a, err…dramatic dub. I found this 12″ in Brooklyn’s secondhand shop Junk, where the amount of used Strictly Rhythm and Nervous records in the bin can make one’s head spin.

04 Aqua Bassino - I’m A Believer - F-Communications 2006

Now over to Scotland for the stand out cut on Aqua Bassino’s 2006 album “Rue De Paris,” a rather urgent vocal cut with breathy falsetto that seems to aim for Prince or even Jamie Lidell, but ends up sounding a bit more like George Michael. The lush production and vocoder echoes are just barely able to keep the tumultuous song from becoming overwrought.

05 Justin Martin - The Sad Piano (Charles Webster Remix) - Buzzin’ Fly 2004

First of two entries from the slightly underrated Buzzin’ Fly label, run by Ben Watt (of Everything But the Girl.) A simple gliding bassline and three echoing chords are able to transcend the rather mundane song title and blend rather well with the bassline for the next track…

06 Sublevel - Just Us - White Label 2002

…which happens to be Sublevel’s “Just Us,” one of the few original productions from Doc Martin, originally on white label and then later appearing on his own Fabric 10 compilation. Immersive and aquatic enough that you might be able to sneak it into a minimal mix, it’s perplexing why the good Doc doesn’t release more of this!

07 Chuck Love - Set Me Free (Festival Mix) - Vista 2005

Most of the stuff I’ve heard from Chuck Love has been a straight up purist garage/deep house, but this dubbed out remix from last year is one of the better things I’ve heard from him. Also, you’d never guess from the lead vocals that he’s a skinny white guy from Minnesota and not a black man from the ‘hood.

08 Justin Harris - Hangerang - Paranoid Music 2006

One half of London’s duo/record label Music for Freaks, Harris’ latest single takes inspiration from the golden era of Chicago house, with some pitched down trippy vocals (reminiscent of Sleezy D’s “I’ve Lost Control” or a number of Phuture tracks,) and those melodic keyboard drones which were used so much by producers like Frankie Knuckles and Marshall Jefferson that anytime I hear them I relate it back to the Windy City. This track is also notable for its high amount of beatless breakdowns, and the moments when Harris’ British accent slips into the mix.

09 Johnny Dangerous - Beat That Bitch (Mr. V’s Sole Channel Mix) - Nite Grooves 2006

Mr. V did two remixes of Johnny Dangerous’ “Beat That Bitch,” (which became a club hit despite its blatant misogyny) and they sit on opposite sides of the pole. This mix removes the famous chant and adds some falsetto and minor-key keyboards to actually make things sound pretty. You could even play it for your Mom. His other mix, however, is somehow even more misogynistic than the original, with a series of phone messages detailing a party where everyone will get together and practice the song title on other party members. I threw up after it was over, played “Pink Hearts Yellow Moons” by Dressy Bessy, and got on with my life.

10 Angie Stone - Brotha (DJ Spen Remix) - Arista 2002

First heard on the Eskimo 4 compilation, one of the many great mixes by The Glimmer Twins, I can imagine “Brotha” being a bit too neo-soul for some people, but DJ Spen’s remix works a treat for me, especially because of the unexpectedly great juxtaposition of church-style organ with a sleazy, staccato guitar lines that could come right out of a porno.

11 Peven Everett - I Can’t Believe I Loved Her - Nite Grooves 2002

Probably Peven’s signature tune, released back when it was actually possible to keep up with this Chicago producer’s constant influx of home made releases. It’s too bad he hasn’t dabbled in house as much as he has in lo-fi soul and funk, but I have to say he’s still one of my favorite underground soul producers/songwriters at the moment.

12 Dubtribe Sound System - We Used To Dance (Muzique Tropique’s Glasgow Funk Mix) - Imperial Dub 1996

The original “We Used To Dance” is a bit of a dire tech-house track with lyrics that don’t amount to more than just another nostalgic, “back in the day, everything was so much better” track. Muzique Tropique’s funk remix is a big improvement though, with a wild and indulgent wah-wah solo that unfortunately ends too soon, just before it gets hallucinatory. I edited out the half-interested vocals which just seem to impede the entire flow of the track.

13 Wildmoos - Waldohreule - Crippled Dick Hot Wax 2005

A one-off from the two members of Sonar Kollektiv’s Slope with Crippled Dick’s chairman Toni Schifer, “Waldohreule” was recorded in ‘03 but never released until ‘05, when it found a place on Crippled Dick’s compilation “Basscheck.” A improvisational jam with a stiff Maurice Fulton-esque bassline, retro synths, and snippets of random party chatter make this an oddball floor-filler.

14 Vincenzo - Peace Is Not The Word To Play (I:Cube’s Vocopop Muzak Mix) - Dessous 1998

Deep house meets filter disco. Does anything else need to be said?!

15 3 Chairs - I Wonder Why - Three Chairs 2004

3 Chairs are the Detroit supergroup of Kenny Dixon Jr. [Moodymann], Rick Wilhite, Theo Parrish, and Marcellus Pittman, although sometimes its hard to tell who’s collaborating with who on each track. The low key “I Wonder Why” sounds like it could’ve been pulled from one of Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edits, with a faded soul vocal snippet riding on a steely-eyed kick drum. Parrish and Dixon may have done this type of track a hundred times, but I’ve yet to hear many who better their approach.

16 Lephtee - So Far Back (The Nova Dream Sequence Remix) - Buzzin’ Fly 2006

Closing things with this gorgeously lush remix from the latest Buzzin’ Fly 12″, which reworks the sparse, droney original into a tense, exhausted epic of Detroit proportions.


February 10, 2006

Love Saves The Day

A high, clicking percussion sound starts, followed swiftly by a nimble bassline. Everybody knows this one, several people whooping while others rattle tambourines, bang on cowbells and shake homemade noisemakers. The song is “Expansions,” by Lonnie Liston Smith, a piece of cosmic soul-jazz recorded for Flying Dutchman records in 1974, and one of the host’s signature songs. “Expand your mind to understand / We all must live in peace,” Donald Smith sings, and there is no doubt that everyone dancing on the packed floor is mouthing those words and feeling, if only here and now, that sentiment.

David Mancuso stands at floor level between two turntables placed on stacks of cinder blocks. He puts a record on, lets it end and then plays another record. As the night progresses, people actually clap at the end of certain songs. The volume level is the lowest I’ve ever heard in a “club,” but the sound is impeccably clear, speakers placed above floor level on all sides of the room. The bass is thick and resonant but not overbearing, and the treble and midrange are perfectly tweaked to allow dancers to enjoy the nuances of each song, rather than bludgeoning them with constant thumpage. Referring to himself as a “musical host,” not a DJ, David approaches the sound as a whole, concentrating on the experience of his guests rather than engaging in displays of mixing technique.

Of course, Mancuso has earned the right to call himself whatever he likes. His first “Love Saves the Day” party (the capitals are important here) was on Valentine’s Day, 1970, and he’s rarely stopped since. Begun in his own converted loft apartment (hence the informal name of the event) on 647 Broadway, north of Houston St., the initial house parties were just that—handmade invitations were passed out, the punchbowl was laced, balloons were inflated, and the dancing commenced. Later, the move to Prince St. and the rise of disco brought on a slightly more conventional approach, but the home-like atmosphere (one of the old school crowd reminisces about the showers at the Prince St. ‘Loft!’) remained. In the thirty-six years since David first brought friends together to eat, drink, and listen to records, much has changed. The music played tonight and then (a mix of African, jazz, soul, funk and rock) would coalesce into ‘disco’ and then ‘house’ and so on, until the average person on the street could hear the phrase ‘dance music’ and immediately have an idea what that meant. In 1970, such was not the case.

“I been livin’ in a world of fantasy, said I’m goin’ back, goin’ back to reality”

This is the second time I’ve been here, to a rented space above a Ukranian restaurant on 2nd Avenue in newly sanitized Manhattan. The first time was in February of last year, for the 35th anniversary party, and I was full of high expectations and uncertain notions of the experience to come. As we headed downtown, my girlfriend and partner-in-disco April asked me, and I wondered, “Do you think we’ll be the youngest people there?” Laughable now in light of our experience, it was a valid enough question at the time. Once we were there, though, forget about it—every time you try to get a bead on the Loft crowd, all you have to do is look around to have it changed. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, young, old, scene veteran, newbie, child, adult, people in wheelchairs, men, women, gays, straights, hairy hippies, and slim professionals, in all the world of dancing there is no crowd like a Loft crowd. Period.

The Sunday evening begins at 5 o’clock, airy but slowly pulsing instrumental jazz forming a backdrop as the revelers arrive, many sitting at the circular tables ringing the room, couples with or without their children, groups of friends, total strangers meeting and greeting. Out on the dancefloor, the serious few are already stretching and getting into a fluid, limber groove somewhere in between ballet, aerobics and jazz dance. Steadily, gradually and with unparalleled grace, David picks the beat up, widening the scope to take in Afrobeat, a sublimely funky hi-life track, percolating ambient techno, and a killer version of the evergreen “My Favorite Things.” The dancers begin to gather underneath an inspiring display of balloons, thickly woven together around a giant discoball like strands of DNA.

“Reach… reach… reach / You’re almost there…”

As the night progresses, David plays nothing but classics, great song after great song, to an almost frustrating degree—trying to leave to mop sweat off of my face or get a drink of water, I find myself pulled right back, unable to resist one jam or another. The dancefloor fills up and never thins out, but people here move and let others move with an unspoken respect. Stepping on someone’s foot in my ecstatic rump-shaking, I turn to apologize but they’re smiling and waving it away already. When the crowd of dancers is at its wildest and thickest, a circle clears near the discoball and I see a tiny girl, maybe five years old breakdancing to the cheers of the onlookers. After a few minutes, her father finally drags her away, laughing, knowing there was no need to worry—everyone around her giving her space, smiling and clapping as she tried to execute a 360, making sure no one stepped in without seeing her.

Though the dance scene has undergone a bolt of fresh energy in recent years, the influence has been one of a more skeptical, dark nature. Not necessarily a bad thing, given the times we are living in, but one which ignores a vast wealth of human emotion which resides at dance music’s core. Throughout the night we hear songs from sources as varied as Chuck Mangione, Depeche Mode and Stevie Wonder, but all resonate with love, optimism and a desire for the kind of communal joy that is the ultimate goal of any quality dancefloor. Much has been made in the critical writing on dance music culture of the inapproachability of this kind of spiritual unity. If the Loft doesn’t put the lie to that kind of thinking, then there is nothing on this Earth that could.

“Loving you/ Until the day that you are me and I am you/ Now ain’t that loving you?”

When we leave on that first night in February, we walk down the stairs opening onto 2nd Avenue, fallen balloons clutched firmly in hand. As the heavy door swings behind us, we discover that it’s snowing, and has been for a while. Walking through the pristine flakes, watching as they descend and liquify on the (comparatively) hot pavement, I am immediately struck by the difference between tonight and so many others. We evaluate everything so constantly today, so quickly and so indiscriminately even a believer like me is judging something while it happens. It’s only as I walk out into the black/white/red smear of Manhattan midnight that I come to realize I hadn’t wasted any time thinking about my experience as it occurred.

“Now that we found love what are we gonna do with it?”

[Mallory O’Donnell]