I’m three records into Azuli Record’s excellent ‘Choice’ series – compilations that focus on compiling classic tracks that have influenced leading 90s house DJs. No surprise then that Godfather of House himself, Frankie Knuckle, was asked back in 2000 to helm the first entry. Aside from playing as resident DJ at the seminal Warehouse nightclub in Chicago, Knuckles also produced some of the enduring staples of early house in the late 80s. All things considered, this man holds a singular place in house music history, his sad passing at the age of 59 in 2014 notable for the shock waves it sent through the many strands and hues of the genre’s contemporary form.
As you would expect, the track selection here is first class. Brimming with dancefloor burners, subtle groovers and bassline shakers, the two mixes assembled here are exemplary journeys that dig deep down to the roots of house music.
CD1 – The Disco Mix
A good majority of the cuts featured on this first mix were caned at Paradise Garage and The Loft in New York during the disco glory days of the 1970s and 80s. A lesson in dance music history is provided here alongside a guaranteed buzz!
‘Let’s Do It’ kicks off proceedings with a languid groove, slippery bleeps and pew-pew lasers aplenty. ‘You Saved My Day’ picks up the tempo with its undulating piano and rollicking funk guitar offering fertile ground for Cheryl Lynn’s gratified outpourings, ‘Thank ya, thank you!’
I find the chipmunk-like voices on ‘Love Bug’ a tad annoying. Some lovely strings on it though. Positive Trio’s ‘We Got The Funk’ is brilliant – a tight, funk strut underpinning an energetic, party vibe with shout outs included!
Tempest Trio’s ‘Do You Like The Way It Feels’ packs a great, liquid groove that bubbles beneath the female vocalists’ sensuous purrs.
Sharon Redd’s ‘Can You Handle It’ is another sizzling disco hit with an undeniably funky sway. Afterwards, the disco divas are given a respite while we’re treated to two slow ‘n’ soupy disco burblers. The crawling, mellow slither of ‘Billy Who?’ turns the heat down a notch while Candido’s screwy ‘Thousand Fingered Man’ thickens the haze with another loose, peculiar groove, this time with a discernible Latin influence.
Billy Ocean’s ‘Nights (I Feel Like Getting Down)’ is probably my favourite track on the whole release. There’s a tense, brooding beat that perfectly complements Ocean’s crooning about finding salvation from loneliness in dance, So I’m heading for the city lights / Dancing where the grooves are right.’
Change’s heady ‘Paradise’ is guaranteed to raise a smile or two with its punchy synth stabs and low, growling funk guitar. ‘I Want You For Myself’ boasts an expertly arranged groove courtesy of George Duke while Deodato’s ‘Night Cruiser’ is a tune to bask in, its trumpet flourishes rippling with pleasure. Then there’s that bit where the horns on a bit of a walk… smooth as! Need to check out more of this guy.
‘A Little Bit Of Jazz’ is equally rousing, heralding epiphanies on the dancefloor, ‘It’s the music that you hear / Shakes you to the stratosphere / You can fly, you get high / You can even touch the sky!’ A giddy disco symphony.
‘Inside America’ acts as Frankie’s encore: a sleek, pleasing disco saunter to wind the crowd down contentedly.
CD 2 – House Mix
This second mix does a fantastic job of encapsulating the feel good spirit of late 80s and early 90s house. It was only when I took the time to research the tracks for this review that I realised how much David Morales actually features on here – a house legend I’ve admittedly been ignorant to. A couple of his ‘Red Zone’ dubs that feature in this mix aren’t actually credited on the notes.
We start out with the joyous ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ replete with punchy piano stabs and soaring strings, the lyrics an ode to hope and endurance, ‘I’ll be waiting, for the sun to shine / Shining on the darkness of confusion.’ Although not an official Morales remix, he does seem to have played some role in the production. A glorious opener that puts you in an elated mood set to last the length of this cracking CD.
‘Feel It’ rolls in beatlessly before a thumping garage bassline and heavenly chimes adorn those triumphant ‘feeeeel it’s! A fun, lush, life-affirming anthem.
David Morales’ exquisite dub of ‘I Want You’ arrives next, freewheeling piano and trumpet blasts cantering atop a low, sleazy bassline that suitably heightens the sexual tension of the lyrics.
Knuckles drops another massive garage bomb with ‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ – the second certifiable Morales’ Red-Zoner. Bass on this mutha! Jestofunk are a group I need to explore more after hearing their infectious ‘I’m Gonna Love You’ – a piece of dancefloor tinder guaranteed to catch light. It definitely ups the ante on this set. That sax… electric! Love the way he mixes this in too.
‘Notice Me’ is a saucy number produced by Clivillés & Cole – the two lads who would later make the massive 1990 hit ‘Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),’ by now a familiar feature of the collective musical consciousness. Sandée’s seductive moans and loose scatting give this track a distinct Latin tinge.
A stripped down version of Soul II Soul’s well-known ‘Back To Life (However Do You Want Me)’ arrives afterwards, pacing the mix down down to a chug before MAW’s Kenlou remix of ‘Set Your Loving Free’ switches on the good time vibes again. A real grooving bass and interesting percussion as always from these legends. Great tune!
‘G-Man’s Groove’ is a lovely, delicate flute-led tune. It can’t help but conjure up images of a summer dusk beginning to creep in gently.
Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley produced ‘Symphony’ stomps in next – another happy, celebratory number encouraging you to savour the moment. Soft Company House’s ‘What You Need’ is a sublime track to end on – those warm, soothing piano chords are the perfect tonic to a night of wild dancing. It’s a trick reminiscent of the one Sprinkles turned out on her ‘Where Dancefloors Stand Still’ mix with that wistful version of ‘Calypso Of House.’
All in all, you cannot fault this comp. Vintage tunes from seminal eras hand-picked by a house music master.