Soul Jazz Records is a British record label. Their catalog consists mostly of compilations and they have it down to a science. I'm going to highlight a few of my favorite releases from the label and I figured I'd start with the first one I ever bought.
Sudio One Story
This release is devoted to the history of one of the most important record labels in Jamaican music history, Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's Studio One. It contains a CD, DVD, and a 90 page book. The CD spans from 1959 to 1979 in 16 tracks and contains many of the big names in the label's history and many of the landmark songs to come from the label from "Easy Snappin" by Theo Beckford, the first record Coxsone ever recorded and released, to "Nanny Goat" by Larry Marshall, which is widely recognized to be the first reggae song. Throughout the course of the compilation many of Studio One's greatest voices are showcased; singer's such as Delroy Wilson, Alton Ellis, Sugar Minott, and the beautiful harmonies of the Abyssinians and the Heptones as well. Studio One were not just known for their vocalists, however. They were also known for their world class musicians. The Skatalites were comprised of some of the best musicians on the island. They are represented on this disc with two songs, "Guns of Navarone" and "Man in the Street." Two members of the band also make appearances on this disc as solo musicians. Tenor saxophonist and band leader Tommy McCook has a beautiful rocksteady track on the disc called "Tunnel One" and keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, who stayed with Studio One after the demise of the Skatalites throughout the 60's and the 70's as musical director, also has a solo outing on the disc with his laid back reggae instrumental "Freak Out." Lastly, the work of the label's best deejays are represented with a couple of classic tracks. First, Dennis Alcapone's version of the Delroy Wilson classic "Run Run" represents the early deejay style. Then there are two rub-a-dub classics, both of which came out in 1979. First is "Nice Up the Dance" by Michigan and Smiley which features the duo's best vocal work over one of my personal favorite riddims, "Real Rock" by the Sound Dimension. Then there is Lone Ranger's "Love Bump." This CD not only acts as a history of Studio One but as a history of Jamaican music as well, covering the early R&B of "Easy Snappin", through ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub, deejay, and early dancehall.
On top of this amazing compilation, Soul Jazz also gives you a 4 hour DVD with a documentary on Studio One featuring interviews with the artists who were part of the label's history and arhcival footage AND a book which explains the history of the label and gives info about all of the musicians and the different styles the music kept evolving into.
New York Noise
This compilation, along with being the inspiration for the name of this blog, is a portrait of what was happening musically on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 1970's and early 1980's and it all began with No Wave. No Wave is fascinating but it's not for everybody, in fact most people would hardly even call it music. In the late 1970's there was Punk Rock and New Wave in New York and there was Punk and Post-Punk in England. New York bands like DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (featuring a young Lydia Lunch), James Chance and the Contortions, Mars, and the Theoretical Girls all wanted to separate themselves from what was going on in music at the time. Together, by wanting to be as radically different as they could be, they invented No Wave, a visceral, noise driven art form specific to this particular time and place. (For your best introduction to No Wave see the Brian Eno produced, 1978 compilation, No New York.) This compilation features DNA, Theoretical Girls, and The Contortions, and Mars (There song is the only one taken from the No New York album). It is this body of music that this compilation builds off of because as the liner notes say, all of the music of the Lower East Side through the mid-1980's was influenced by No Wave, whether it was their sound or their attitude. What came later was a mixture of Punk, Funk, and Dance Music. Bands like the all girl Bush Tetras (featuring Pat Place, original guitarist for the Contortions) and Bloods(featuring Contortions keyboardist, Adele Bertei) mixed the punk feel and punk attitude with spastic funk based grooves.
Liquid Liquid, Dinosaur L, Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Konk were playing what was called Mutant Dance music or sometimes called Mutant Disco. It took the dance elements of Disco, Funk, and sometimes Latin Music and combined it with the experimental sounds of the No Wave bands. Though they completely dropped the dissonance, which was what made No Wave so radically different, it maintained that experimental edge which was what kept these musicians at the forefront of what was going on musically during this time.
This CD compiles the music of one of the most interesting, diverse, and yet cohesive music scenes in the past 40 years and does it beautifully with great, informative liner notes and great pictures.
This is another reggae set from Soul Jazz. This time the focus is on the Randy's label and its subsidiary, Impact, run by the father and son team of Vincent and Clive Chin.
Vincent opened Randy's Record shop in the 1950's and eventually added a recording studio to the building. The label came about in the early 1960's. Eventually he would move to New York and start VP Records, which is one of the largest reggae music distributors in the world, however, this compilation focuses on a specific time and style. It compiles the funky and soul-driven reggae being released by the Chins between 1969 and 1975. It features world class musicians and some underrated vocalists such as Hortense Ellis, Donovan Carless, Winston Cole, and the vocal group Psalms. Contributing to the instrumentals on this CD are legends such as Augustus Pablo versioning Tommy McCook's "Cloak and Dagger" with his first class melodica work on the track "Dub Organizer." Tommy McCook appears on the album twice, one of which being a personal favorite of mine called "KT88," which is actually a cover of Herbie Mann's "Memphis Underground." Jackie Mittoo is also represented by two soul-driven organ instrumentals. Skin Flesh and Bones, which featured the great Sly Dunbar on drums and were also known as Sly and the Revolutionaries for Channel One and The Professionals for Joe Gibbs, contribute a track to this compilation which feels like Sly and the Family Stone(1969-1970 heavy Sly) playing reggae with Paul Butterfield on harmonica. I'm not exagerating, it's that good. If you didn't know reggae could get this funky, you should definitely check out this CD.
The Sexual Life of the Savages
This last compilation I'll be talking about is one of the most interesting. Soul Jazz took it upon themselves to scrounge up 18 songs from a scene that you probably never would have heard of otherwise. The time is the 1980's and the place is Sao Paulo, Brazil, the music is Post-Punk influenced by the New York scene documented in the New York Noise compilation, from the dissonant No Wave to the spastic Funk Punk, its all here... in Portuguese. It all started with a band called Gang 90 e As Absurdettes. Their lead singer, Julio Barroso lived in New York in the 1970's and frequently went to check out the No Wave shows. When he went back to Brazil in the 1980's, he brought it with him. Out of this, a Post-Punk scene formed in Sao Paulo with such bands as As Mercenarias, Fellini, and Patife. The music ranges from slow, dark, Siouxsie and the Banshee-ish songs to the frenetic, funky, punk of As Mercenarias and Patife and everywhere in between. This compilation serves as a great snapshot of a fascinating and little known musical revolution.