As anyone in marketing can tell you, there's no better time to repackage and sell a bunch of old stuff than when you've got a hot new product with a tie-in to the dated items flying off the shelves. No one knows this better than our friends in the recording industry, so it's no real surprise that handlers of British DJ/producers Basement Jaxx have chosen to release a compilation of the duo's early work even as singles from their smash second full-length, Rooty, continue to fly up the dance charts.
Basement Jaxx formed shortly after Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe met in the early '90s at a riverboat party on the Thames, where they discovered a mutual love of house music and world-music influences. After spinning together at an illegal club night in a seedy South London Mexican restaurant, in 1994 Buxton and Ratcliffe formed their own label, Atlantic Jaxx, to release their growing output of Latin-tinged house anthems. Atlantic Jaxx Recordings: A Compilation pulls together many of those early cuts, saving fans the trouble of tracking down singles and hard-to-find EPs.
The Jaxx tracks here are from the years 1994 through 1997 and are, for the most part, shining examples of the group's aural evolution. "Be Free," from 1995, opens the disc with warm organic bass backed by edgy staccato percussion (an early illustration of the Jaxx's knack for atmospheric drama); an orchestra then rises and swells, and a vocalized yip adds Latin flair to the song as it bounds along its way.
As its title suggests, the light house romp "Samba Magic" offers more Latin flavor, while Buxton and Ratcliffe's fondness for disco shows up on "Live Your Life With Me," a splendid mix of snappy disco guitar and throaty, jazzy horn and flute phrasing, with soulful vocals by diva Corrina Joseph.
Joseph also lends her lungs to "Lonely." Rolling and popping snare drums and tom-toms drive the light and smooth drum-and-bass track, but Joseph's vocals here are more sultry and sad. ("In circumstances I can see/Warning signs clear as can be/You make me lonely...")
Ubiquitous hand-clapping sets the beat for "Fly Life," the 1996 track whose raga influence and stuttering, sliced-up horn and vocal lines made it a club staple and put the Jaxx on the U.K. singles chart for the first time. Still more world-beat/disco fusion is found on "Belo Horizonti." Cascading orchestral strings are here, in the best disco tradition, along with some cheesy synth work, all of it spiced with flamenco guitars, smooth-to-staccato horns, whistles, shakers and trilled yeee-haw and yip-yip vocalizations.
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Straight-up neo-disco rears its head on "Set Your Body Free," with its rolling and chugging beats and tough synthesizer distortion urging us to heed the track's title.
The jazz-fusion experiment "Daluma" is a low point in this strong set. It's a little too free-form and rambling, and there's too much dissonance, even for lovers of free jazz and acid jazz.
The fruity effervescence invoked by the title of the next track, "Grapesoda," finds voice in sprightly, jazzy opening keys backed by rhythmic hand-clapping, which is taken over by soulful horns piping out a descending line that drops the track into a light disco workout over rubber-band bass.
Funky. Soulful. Worldly. All of these qualities have kept Buxton and Ratcliffe miles ahead of the pack of producers creating a morass of lifeless, rhythmic pounding for dance-floor consumption. And if you've just recently turned on to the Jaxx ethos, Atlantic Jaxx is the perfect primer.