Let’s Dance – House Masters: David Penn (Defected)

Various ArtistsHouse Masters: David Penn (Defected)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Spanish DJ David Penn gets this very welcome career retrospective from Defected, a chance for fans to appreciate not just his original, Latin-flavoured house tunes and his teamwork with DJ Chus, but a whole host of remixes. Penn has in the past bravely taken on classics like Pete Heller’s Big Love and Sophie Lloyd’s Calling Out, but as this collection shows he always comes out on top.

What’s the music like?

Excellent, and brimming with good vibes. The original productions include Penn’s uplifting Nobody, which sets the tone from the off, but also What Is House, with Rober Gaez, and Stand Up, a piano-led, gospel-tinged winner with Ramona Renea. The collection has a really good ebb and flow between these productions and Penn’s remixes, so early on we get the rolling beats and bass of Jack Back’s (It Happens) Sometimes and a brilliant take on Candi Staton’s Hallelujah Anyway, smooth as silk in the production but still hitting the essence of the song. Later on the same can be said for Ron Hall & The MuthafunkazThe Way You Love Me, which Penn treats just right, and also Todd Terry’s Babarabatiri, which plays right into his Latino strengths.

Speaking of which, Penn’s El Sur, with Jabato, is a highlight later on – as is Esperenza, the long-established anthem made with regular sparring partner DJ Chus. Both appear later with a remix of Lenny Fontana’s The Way, before teaming up with Concha Buika to bring the house down on Will I (Discover Love).

Does it all work?

Yes. Penn’s remixing style is uncomplicated – which is an underrated quality, because it means the quality of the original still shines through in spite of the new clothing. The Mediterranean warmth is ever-present in his own productions, which flow beautifully and are consistently classy. A good piano riff is rarely far away from a David Penn production!

Is it recommended?

Yes. It’s great to see Penn getting the spotlight in this way, and he deserves his place alongside the hall of fame Defected have built up in their House Masters series. He understands what makes house music work so well in the hotter European climes, and this compilation shows off his output beautifully.

Stream

Buy

You can buy David Penn’s House Masters compilation from the Defected website here

Let’s Dance – Crosstown Rebels present Spirits III (Crosstown Rebels)

Various ArtistsCrosstown Rebels presents Spirits III (Crosstown Rebels)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In the press release for the latest instalment of their Spirits compilation, Crosstown Rebels founder Damian Lazarus explains why the series has become so important to him. He sees it as ‘a very important annual mission in which my focus is to uncover some of the most exciting new underground music and piece it together in a way that makes a statement for the label. In discovering new artists and putting them side by side with established people we are setting new agendas for sound and for the future. These are battle weapons, freshly unearthed anthems, deep experiments and awakenings’.

What’s the music like?

Very much in keeping with the press release. There are several striking cuts here, and as Lazarus says it’s a very healthy blend of the known names and new ones. Not surprisingly the known names includes Lazarus himself, and his Ergot starts proceedings with a deep track whose riff almost slips down the back of the music.

Elsewhere the chunky beats and bass of Denney and James Dexter’s Transcend are a hit, as is the brooding Creatures Of The Night from Aiwaska with Jimmy Wit an H. Arguably the most distinctive and memorable track comes from Cipy and Knowkontrol, whose Newark has a really good falsetto vocal as its main hook. Dennis Cruz gives a nice trumpet imitation of an elephant to add a bit of humourous deep jazz to Mother Earth, while Harry Romero reinforces his reputation for fine house music with the excellent It’s You, a kind of mini chant that really gets going over bleeps and a nippy beat. The tempo drops a bit for Eli & Fur at the end, their collaboration with Brothertiger She’s Just A Wanderer a loping piece of dub-house that works really well.

Does it all work?

Yes. It’s well laid out and delivered, and does exactly what a fan of Crosstown Rebels would want it to do.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for the above reasons! House music is the main name of the game here, but Damian Lazarus has put together a really good set of forward facing Spirits that deserve to be heard.

Stream

Buy

You can buy the compilation from the Phonica Records website here

Switched On – Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander

Various Artists: Balance presents Vivrant mixed by Jeremy Olander (Balance)

What’s the story?

‘Melancholic’ and ‘cinematic’ are two of the words closely associated with Jeremy Olander’s music. They are often applied to the Swedish producer’s own work and his DJ sets, which often contain a lot of his own music. Time, then, for him to release one of those commercially – which he does here on the Balance label. Olander confesses to feeling a little intimidated by the prospect, with last year’s epic contribution from James Zabiela casting quite a shadow, but he nonetheless steps up with music from his own studio and those of his Vivrant label artists.

What’s the music like?

Yes. Olander goes for an expansive style in his mixing, and often stays rooted to the same pitch for ten minutes or more. This is a really effective tactic, creating wide open spaces and a pleasant feeling of hypnosis for the listener, who after a while will discover their feet are tapping automatically. The introduction of the first mix bears this out, with three tracks from J.Singh that stay rooted to one pitch before long bass notes move the music on. Marino Canal & Miguel Payda’s Hidden Eyes are excellent, with a moody vocal and soaring line.

The mix is like a single, arching structure, as is the second which has an utterly sublime beginning from Olander’s own track Akzo. This is a lovely, starry piece of music and it cuts to more spacey, beat driven material in Yoyo. Again the continuity here is more important than single standout single tracks, and Olander judges the build of intensity in the mix just right, finishing with his own Life After Death.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Olander’s mixes are in for the long haul and work best when heard in full, creating spaced out and hypnotic atmospheres. They may not always be full of hooks but the late night spell is cast to perfection.

Stream

Buy

You can buy this release on the Balance website

Switched On – Pop Ambient 2020 (Kompakt)

What’s the story?

Wolfgang Voigt has every right to be proud as one of the flagship series of the Kompakt label, Pop Ambient, reaches its 20th edition. Cologne’s finest label refuses to rest on its laurels, mind, delivering a set of old and new music, best enjoyed horizontally.

What’s the music like?

Blissful. Kompakt have not been doing this sort of compilation for 20 years without reward – they know the quick routes to peace of body and mind, as made possible in music.

There is a pleasing mix of familiar and relatively new names here. In the former camp sit Thomas Fehlmann and the bubbling textures of Liebesperlen, Raumschmiere‘s brooding Notre-Dame and two Andrew Thomas contributions, Song 9 and Sleep Fall.

Into the latter group come the easy paced guitar instrumental from Urquell, who also contributes Alles Bleibt Anders. On a similar plain is Gen Pop‘s Iron Woman and early Kompakt contributor Klimek‘s All The Little Horses, though the same producer’s Requiem For A Butterfly offers darker, widescreen strings. For even deeper ambience Yui Onodera offers the incredibly calming Cromo 4, while Joachim Spieth is even more immersive on Meteor.

The ambience deepens still further through the thick, soothing blanket of Markus Guentner‘s Clade.

Does it all work?

Yes. The ebb and flow of the tracks is ideally judged, and the high ratio of exclusives and new tracks make the 20th edition of this series as collectable as ever.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. Pop Ambient has a reassuringly regular place in the calendar of down tempo music, and this is it’s best collection for some time. On a personal level, with the world experiencing such stress and change at present, this is just the sort of music required to counteract it!

Stream and Buy (from November 29)

Let’s Dance – Kevin McKay: No Samples Were Harmed In The Making Of This Record (Glasgow Underground)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Traditionally dance music has paid homage to its heroes through the sample rather than the cover version. DJs and producers have tended to use material from the originals, from complete chunks right down to the bare hi-hats, updating them for current and future dancefloors. This has often carried baggage, however, in the time spent clearing samples from their original owners and with money often having to be exchanged prior to the tracks being released.

Glasgow Underground owner Kevin McKay has taken a different approach. Removing the problem stage at a stroke, he releases an album of 14 choice house and disco covers without sampling a single note. The first fruits of this fresh angle were a joint cover with David Penn of Randy Crawford’s Hallelujah in May, followed by a take on Whitney Houston’s Million Dollar Bill in June – and now we have these freshly minted covers to enjoy as an album.

What’s the music like?

Excellent. McKay’s approach works really well, giving us new dancefloor winners but also letting us here the originals in a different light, showing us just how good they really are. The hand-picked vocalists deliver, so much so you can often sense them literally throwing their hands to the sky.

“You blow my troubles away like the winds of autumn”, goes the vocal on Hallelujah, and it’s difficult not to agree when the gospel chorus kicks in afterwards. This is arguably the pick of the tracks, though several run it close. Such A Good Feeling benefits from Joshwa’s excellent contribution, throwing off its cares completely, while the way McKay brings in the piano riff for a cover of XpansionsMove Your Body is also a thrill.

Elsewhere the version of I Got The Feeling is a Nile Rodgers-influenced high, while Million Dollar Bill is brilliantly executed, with disco bounce and classy keyboards. This track was made with Start The Party, who McKay also enlists for the immortal Donna Summer classic I Feel Love. A brave move, but he emerges intact with an excellent cover that doesn’t try to do to much with Moroder’s timeless source material.

Also well worth noting are a suitably deadpan cover of Technologic with Marco Anzalone – excellent cold bass sound here – and a well-judged version of A Deeper Love. Get Ur Freak On takes a while to get used to – the Missy Elliott original is so distinctive it’s odd to hear it done any other way – but the version of Paul Johnson’s Get Get Down, with Matt Fontaine, is spot on. That also applies for the final Start The Party collaboration, Don’t Leave Me This Way wrapping the collection up in style.

Does it all work?

Mostly. McKay has all the experience needed to make the dancefloor a heaving mass of bodies, and the vast majority of these tracks fit the blueprint comfortably. The music is at its best when disco meets house and throws in a few extras, and it is clear these covers are made with a true love of the music and its history.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. Who knew when it started in the late 1980s that dance music would be so durable and flexible? Albums like this only prove its longevity and continued ability to raise us from the doldrums.

Stream

Buy

You can buy No Samples Were Harmed… at Traxsource here