Thursday, June 19, 2014

Heathrow To Kansai: The Class Of '94

The year 1994 seemed to be a very transitional year in my life. Didn't return to Columbia College. I was 23 and had to finally face the reality that holding on to my job at McDonald's, where I'd been since my senior year high school, wasn't gonna suffice. Found a higher paying job that paved the way for me to finally get my own apartment and officially join the rat race. This new job came with strenuous hours and even more strenuous work duties that often left me mentally and physically drained resulting in me having little to no time for a social life. Beforehand, I was the nightlife king. All I had for my refuge was my love for music but at this point, music was also going through a transition.

The house music scene that I was pretty devoted to for more than ten years was in disarray thanks in part to stagnation, new zoning laws and tourism. The airwaves were pretty much dominated by new jack swing and the pop side of r&b aimed at the young urban streets with sounds built more around beats first and instrumentation, if any, second. Live bands simply didn't exist. Any of my favorite soul or jazz funk artists from the 70's & 80's classic periods, who were lucky enough to be still recording, found themselves clambering for spots in the crowded field of adult contemporary and smooth jazz. Not to say I didn't like any of it, (well I wasn't a fan of new jack swing much at all lol) but I felt something was being lost in the music. It had become watered down. I was hearing it but not feeling it. What's a soul music lover to do?

A few years earlier upon still buying new dance singles on a regular basis, I stumbled upon the music of two bands from the UK that seemed to be oh so inspired by the soul, jazz and funk I grew up on, Brand New Heavies (whom I first bought thanks to Lil Louis dropping "Dream Come True" in his set at Coconuts) and Jamiroquai. I clung to those two bands with all my might hoping for more from them and often wondered if or when they were coming with sophomore albums. Furthermore, being that they were both from overseas, I often wondered were there more artists out there like them.

Enter Gramaphone Record store and the newly formed acid jazz section. I was unclear what acid jazz was initially but if those two bands were filed there, I wanted know who they were filed next to. Perusing I go. DAMN these albums are expensive lol. All imports from the UK and Japan of artists I'd never seen or heard before. The album covers are speaking to me but how do I decide on who to try?

Enter a magazine called Straight No Chaser. This mag was the holy grail of all good things soulful, funky and jazzy in music. This mag became my bible. It seriously opened me up to a whole new world. Artists, dj's, producers, record labels and soulful culture from all around the globe, from the UK street soul and funk jazz movement ie Incognito, Young Disciples, James Taylor Quartet, Outside, Drizabone etc all the way to the movement in Japan ie Monday Michiru, Mondo Grosso, United Future Organization, Kyoto Jazz Massive etc. I was blown away. I felt this movement was tailored just for me. Music that was progressively nostalgic, drawing heavily from the era that shaped my palate but with a freshness making it timeless. Had me hooked, line and sinker lol. My mission was to buy every release I could find, especially those on the Talkin' Loud, Acid Jazz, Dorado, Idyllic, Lollop or 99 Record labels. Took my paycheck every week LMAO.

The downfall, in a sense, was the community of others who felt this music as I did, in Chicago, was a small one. There weren't many outlets in the manner of nightlife that fed this music and movement so I'm thankful to DJs like G-Most, Daniel Givens, Jesse de la Pena, Tone B. Nimble and a handful of others who took the movement to places like the Elbo Room, Lava Lounge, Liquid Kitty and the early days of Red Dog. This era grew me up musically. Through it, I learned so much more about black music history especially jazz. It's crazy how it took the oversea market to introduce to me to the music of labels like Black Jazz, Strata East, Tribe etc. I learned more about Blue Note and just American jazz and funk as a whole. And if it had not been for this era and Gramaphone filing The Roots "Organix", Guru's "Jazzmatazz" and Digable Planets in the acid jazz section, I would have never given hip hop my ear. This led me to the jazzy boom bap side of hip hop. This era would also serve as the precursor to what would become the neo-soul (side eye) era.

*I should note that there were a few labels, artists and college radio stations like WCLK in ATL, Groove Collective, The Solsonics, Ubiquity & Giant Steps who held the movement down in the states.

This year, many classic albums from this era turn 20* and I felt it my duty to create this special podcast episode as a tribute to those albums and this era that shaped me fully into the music lover that I am today. Check out the collage of 20 of my favorites released in 1994 and give this episode your ear. I think the music is as fresh today as it was when I first heard it but then again, I have super fond memories attached to it. I hope you don't mind my reminiscing LOL.
(*Outside "Almost In" & Izit "The Whole Affair" were released in '93 but stateside in '94)

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01. Weather Storm / Massive Attack
02. Morning Loving / Carleen Anderson
03. Searching / Nobukazu Takemura ft. Dee C Lee
04. Friendly Pressure / Jhelisa
05. Things Will Be Sweeter / Dee C Lee
06. Life So Free / The Federation
07. Magic Wand Of Love / United Future Organization
08. Daybreak / Brand New Heavies
09. Izit Everywhere Pt. 2 / Izit
10. Brightest Star / Drizabone
11. Invisible Man / Mondo Grosso
12. Lucky Fellow / McKoy
13. Interlude - Little Boy / Omar
14. All In Your Mind / Swing Out Sister
15. When You Call My Name / Jessica Lauren
16. Stillness In Time (vinyl version) / Jamiroquai

17. 144 Brooklyn Palace Mansions / Outside
18. What Is Jazz / Monday Michiru
19. Somewhere Not Here / Bahia Sunsets (Kyoto Jazz Massive)
20. Idyllic / Spiritual Vibes

1 comment:

  1. I love this mix Duane! My story is similar to yours as I found out about Acid Jazz ironically through The Source Music Magazine. I bought my first Acid Jazz compilation by taking a chance and boy did it pay off. This mix speaks to me because I was really pissed off in the 90s about R&B taking from Hiphop, so i branched out and got heavily involved in the Acid Jazz scene. Peace.