Anthony Nicholson - DirtyDiscoJazzFunk (The Jazz Diaries, 2021)
On their latest release, the Jazz Diaries present a incredible two tracker from Chicago based icon Anthony Nicholson, that personifies the power of funk laden house and showcases his incredible versatility as a producer.
House music can take many forms and many shapes, due in turn to those who dedicated themselves to the four to the floor but took the time to think about what this classic structure can actually achieve when a bit of thought has been applied to it. The 80s was a time when the drumming loops were highly expressive, with the intoxicating blend of hi hat lines and powerful kicks and snares filling the dance floor to the brim as the era defining melodies and vocals would channel themselves right into the hearts and minds of dancers the world over. Around the turn of the decade, the drumming patterns would evolve to the now established four four rhythm, and with it came a whole new spectrum of interpretations as to how we experience this rhythmic groove alongside melodic expressionism. The 90s was a glorious time for house music, with so many iconic producers starting off on their journey as sub genres like Deep House, Italo House, Hard House, Ghetto House, Tech House, Jazz House and many more provided the listener with differing interpretations of both the top and low end of tracks, resulting in an audial orgy of all the colours of the rainbow when it came to House music. Deep House in particular really grew into its own during this period, as a plethora of producers around the globe became enthralled by not only its emotive qualities but its potential for groove and rhythm, with its ability to move bodies and minds in equal measure an attractive prospect for many who ventured down its well trodden paths. The genre would become an enduring phenomenon, to this day still inspiring countless musicians to create their own take on euphorically gentle dance music where the kicks tie into the heart beat and the keys soothe the mind with beautiful tones and textures. Not only did deep house producers craft songs of ethereal sublimity, but they focused on how to make the rhythm indefinitely exciting, with elements of Latin and Jazz drumming patterns helping to make the groove lift off and touch down throughout songs, with chordal progressions often responding in kind as a series of uplifting sequences that never fail to impress. This strand of deep house would have an enormous impact on the overall 90s sound, as it showed an organicness, a vitality in instrumentalism, a living breathing sequence that felt more like a live recording with a band than something made on a computer, a sound intrenched in all that came before in relation to groove. The intoxicating rhythmic pulses, the expressive and brilliantly conceived stanzas and bridges, the layering upon layering of excellence, to this day we remain enthralled by the sheer brilliance of it all, with a step back always required to get a sense of the full picture being presented to us. It was music made for those very special moments on the dancefloor - when the crowd has a good look at itself at around the 3am mark - but also caters very well indeed for a home listening, with all the intricacies on display making for a incredibly inviting experience that brings you front and centre to get fully involved with all the flows and progressions. Producers from these times still stand strong today, their narrative progression solidified in time by a linkage of excellence that sets them apart from the rest, carrying through from their early days and right up to the present, kept in check by an audience who adore all that they do, appreciative for the mastery that has flowed from their finger tips and onto record players around the world.
One such producer who epitomises the iconic 90s deep house sound and still embodies that spirit in everything he does is Anthony Nicholson, who since his debut in 1992 has crafted one of the genre's most enduring sonic legacies. Nicholson's sound is one of dynamic melodic consistency and rhythmically exquisiteness, with his music always displaying both features on equal footing in order to provide a incredibly balanced feel which moves the feet and the mind in equal measure, but rather than being formulaic he has seemingly made it his mission to explore every single facet of the concept, and the results are truly extraordinary. Each record you dip into of his opens up like a differing chapter in a magnus opus in the making, with every EP and LP from each alias contributing in some way to the endless universe that Nicholson has carefully constructed over time. His sound is one of expressive instrumentalism, with each record having a character of its own in relation to what side of the spectrum is going to be explored, either within a live instrumentalism kind of vibe or within a series of synths that feel alive through their applied tones, it all carries over and makes up a bigger picture that demonstrates to us the vision of Nicholson and his quest to achieving brilliance. Its deep house that feels vibrant, refreshing and enriching, giving over to us so much that the soul always feels nourished and sustained, our eyes closing each time as a big smile grows on our face, our imaginations running wild as vivid contexts are conjured up in the backdrop of our consciousness. Its and audial experience with a living breathing consciousness, at times feeling like the instruments have a mind of their own, operating between the kicks with a passion that can only be matched in a few other places, with Nicholson conducting the ensemble from the very heart of proceedings, instructing the flourishes, the crescendos, the climaxes and the down time. Nicholson not only released some stunning music by himself, but has released frequently with other musicians, notably with fellow Deep house illuminary Ron Trent, whom he has shared an extremely close working relationship over the years as the duo have released countless slices of brilliance together across a wide spread of aliases. Like Trent and his legendary Prescription imprint, Nicholson founded his own iconic Clairaudience label, that has served as a vehicle for his own creations and countless other talents, with the resulting discography serving as a indicator of where House was certainly heading into the new millennium. When rounding up on his discography, there's a hell of a lot to get through, but having had a listen we have selected some favourites (and this was very tough indeed), starting off his aliases and the beautifully emotive and endearingly sweet 'Suite N°1 - Jujazwarfare' record, that arrived via the Afterglow name in 2000; the big, beefy and enduringly funky 'Dance With Me', that features some gorgeous jazz-fusion guitars, with the record arriving via the Dazzle name in 2001; both the Jombo Life records, 'The Jombo Life' (1998) and 'Jombo Life Part 2: Aquarius' (2001) are absolutely fantastic examples of unravelling yet neverending deep house; the wonderful 'All' record from the Legacy name, which featured Mikkhiel and came out in 2000; the future jazz epicness featured on the 'Voodoo Jazz Rapture' album, that arrived via the Miquifaye name in 2000; and finally, the wicked 'Space Station' record from the Space 7 name, which landed in 2001. From his own name, we have the sheer house brilliance found on the 'Dance Anthology Vol 1 + 2' LP, that came out in 1998; the equally groovy and ultra-fresh sounds of the 'Necessary Phazes' LP, that came out in 2005; the expertly concieved and deeply expressive 'Gravity' LP, that arrived in 2016; the beautiful 'Revolution' from 2001; the equally impressive 'Anthem Noir/Vibration' EP from 2005; the excellent 'Celestial Journey (The Beginning....)' EP, also from 2005; the 'Alter Ego' EP and 'The Universe' EP, both of which came out in 2006; the 'Pretty Noise's Project' from 2010, that was released alongside Glenn Underground; and finally, 'The Universal EP 5' EP from 2011. Finally, from his group projects, we have the wondrous feels of the sole Ancestry record, 'You're The One', which was a joint affair with Trent, with the record arriving in 1998; the wicked grooves found on the sole Descendents record, 'Light Shines Truth', that was released alongside house legend Jenifa Mayanja, and was released in 99'; the incredible vocal driven powerhouse that is the 'Can't Live Without Your Love' record, that was released alongside Ron Trent and Savere, with the record coming out in 1997; the simmering hazy house excellence that is the 'Remember/On My Mind' release from the Konfusion Kidzz name, again released with Trent in 1998; and finally, the hypnotic melting pot of synths and keys that make up the 'Brazil Minus Six' release, a joint affair with Oscar McMillan under the Native Element name, with the record arriving in 98'. Across his works, Nicholson has shown himself to be a true leader of house music, that is backed up by both the quantity of his outputs but also the quality that is found within each and every one of his releases. Whether its aside likeminded individuals or by himself in the studio, you know that each approach will conjure up remarkable results, that being an audial experience delicately composed and balanced to produce only the finest of deep house vibes for us to get deeply involved within. Its an inviting world, filled with promise and hope that provides us with so many lasting memories, emotions and feels, like the best house music always does.
And now we arrive at his latest effort, 'DirtyDiscoJazzFunk', that features one of his most iconic composition from his extensive catalogue and a brand new cut, with the vinyl coming courtesy of the ever impressive The Jazz Diaries imprint. The music is incredibly melodic, effortlessly groovy, filled to the brim with heart and contains an intense level of instrumentalism, with the atmosphere making it sound like you're sitting with the musicians right there in the studio. Its profoundly deep, with a ripple heading up your spine with each listen, as a intricate world of rhythm and tone opens itself up to you one note and bar at a time. To see the old in with the new is always refreshing, and it just goes to show how Nicholson's music will forever remain timeless, its impact felt all over the contemporary musical landscape, and thats testament to the man and his vision. Its quintessential, its iconic, its meaningful, well its Anthony Nicholson - what more can we say? so, with that sentiment, lets dive right into this little masterpiece....
Up first comes the title track, and this one begins with the kicks riding high as the looping melodic sample makes up the backdrop. The mood quickly shifts to include a more upfront feel, with the original melodic loop making its presence known as the drums quickly evolve and multiply, with additional rhodes chords lying themselves lovingly over the percussive evolution, as further keys begin to operate in the high ends. This all amounts to a tremendous sense of scale, with the differing layers applying themselves within the grooves to great effect, as the track shifts through the gears to showcase differing structures that really do wow the mind as much as the body. The jazzy key crescendos are a joy to witness, adding a layer of texture to the groove as it consistently moves onwards and upwards, binding us to the ongoing narrative that never stands still, but simply evolves then evolves some more. The switches in density occur not only in an environmental sense but in a rhythmical manner, with the strata of the track moving and evolving with a free flowing density to present to us so much joy and delight. The key solo that abounds from the track around the 5 minute mark is a thing of beauty, with the song responding in kind as a reaction to its utter infectiousness, as the track now takes on a mind of its own in a fluid jazz kind of way. The song then moves once more into a choppy kind of feel, with the backing track giving a huge amount of space for another cosmic key solo to fill the top ends of the cut, with its breezy feel taking us away to ecstasy. Its breezily euphoric, not in a kind of big room 5am kind of way but through a sheer celebration of instrumentalism, with all the elements working alongside each other to evoke a euphoria within us that is just so very beautiful indeed. A stunning track indeed. To wrap things up on the B side, we have 'Future Black Fusion', that originally came out on Nicholson's Clairaudience imprint back in 2002. The track begins with the crashing of the waves and cries of the gulls, which then gives way for the impeccable drumming pattern and soft enveloping keys to get into the groove, with the first climax arriving as the drums reach their apex, with the iconic bass line arriving around this time to make the feel complete. The guitar also arrives at this time to craft a deep undercurrent of feels, with beautiful chordal applications adding these beautiful touches to the progression, with a vibraphone channeling itself into the mix to add further to the all-encompassing feel of the momentum. The flow is utterly mesmerising, with the full scope of the world set out in front of us touched upon by the instrumentation, with each element allowed so much breathing space in order to entice us and guide us from point A to point B. The composition moves into its first down time moment as the instruments move away for a brief time, but this all switches up once more as the guitar solo glides its way across the top end of the cut, which provides just another facet for us to immerse ourselves in. All the while the guitar does its thing there is plenty to capture the imagination, with little flourishes of keys keeping the undercurrent fresh, and before long the bass gets its moment to shine, and oh shine it does. This is then followed by an equally impressive keyboard solo, one that flickers between solid patches through to beautiful crescendos and fills, its simply marvellous on so many levels. And like that, the track sees itself out, proceeding to move away into the sky above, content in its ability to move us to the most serene of places, a space deep within us that we only reach when the context is just right and the tunes are utterly perfect. How you can cram so much excellence into a two tracker, god only knows, but Nicholson ain't your average house producer, that's for sure.
There are certain sounds that vibrate our inner self, our passions and conscious thought evoked through a series of rhythmic exchanges that simmer along at the surface to begin with but channel deep into our inner most feelings and emotions. Nicholson has captured the essence of that sound throughout his career, with his take on house one that is captures the genre's ability to transcend through the power of instrumental intricacy, and that aspect is what makes his music so brilliant. It unravels and morphs, shifting shape through application rather than sharp transitions in energy, with this approach allowing for little flourishes and additions to integrate themselves so effectively into the ongoing narrative, and that is no different with these two excellent cuts. One is a masterful new addition to the story, the other a wonderful evoking of one of his classic tunes, and together they represent the past, the present and, as always with Nicholson's work, the future, and we say that in the most confident of ways. His story is one of intrigue, uniqueness and vision, and with records like this one we are simply reminded of the talents of a true icon. A remarkable record, by a remarkable producer.
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