The early days of House Music in Chicago were dominated by enthusiastic young producers who processed what they heard being played by club DJs like Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles and radio DJs as the Hot Mix 5, a raw and highly functional take on the American Disco heritage and European electronic counterparts, its sound determined by limited means to afford musical equipment. There were many records released that had enough brilliant ideas to last to this day, but for its originators it might have been sufficient to have their tracks played by said DJs, and however addictive their rhythms and wild piano chords were, they also seemed not to aim too high in terms of traditional musicianship. Thus from very early on the music of Larry Heard stood out. He was a real musician, with credentials as a professional drummer and keyboard player, and he introduced a level of artistry to the scene that in comparison seemed to be underdeveloped until then. And from the start his music reflected his personality. It was deep, introvert, even melancholic. It did not contain the usual dancefloor imperatives, but it was still very danceable. But club functionality did not appear to be his top priority. Nevertheless all the records he released under different guises from the mid to late 80s became legendary classics, and many more records he released afterwards became legendary classics as well.
Consequently Larry Heard will forever remain one of the most revered artists in the history of House music, yet it always seemed as if he felt his career did not unfold as he hoped it would. He probably shared the same desire to become famous, just like the rest of the Windy City pioneers, but neither he nor his music were extrovert enough to fit the necessary schemes. And this both applied to his most noted alias Mr. Fingers, and Fingers Inc., the group he formed with Robert Owens and Ron Wilson. Mr. Fingers was reserved for his very own interpretations of the House groove, and he created one eternal blueprint after another in the process, impressively showing how deep and pure electronic music could be. Fingers Inc. on the other hand was clearly conveyed to work as a group, in the traditional sense of any other R&B group of those years, only with the sound of House instead of R&B. Just take a look at the pictures of the group on the sleeve, matching sweaters and confident poses, with female limbs wrapped around like an outtake from an Ohio Players artwork. The charts were to be climbed, the sooner and higher the better. But despite reassuring sales in the club scene they did not climb the charts as intended. It is significant that both the albums „Ammnesia“ by Mr. Fingers and „Another Side“ were released on the Jack Trax label from the UK, an imprint specializing on importing landmark Chicago House releases to the European market. Both albums combined tracks previously released on local Chicago House labels like Trax and DJ International with new material. Both albums were released in 1988, the year when a rising interest in the new dance sounds from across the pond turned into the Acid House movement that would change the UK and continental club scenes substantially. And both albums are not regarded as a quick compilation to cash in on a then current hype, they are regarded as peerless masterpieces. Albums that really work as albums, from start to finish, all killer no filler. They are still ultimate references that club music can work perfectly in the format, and whoever is failing is just not trying hard enough. So much for Larry Heard’s talents, you cannot really overestimate them. Read the rest of this entry »
In discussion with L’estasi Dell’oro on “Passages” by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass (1990).
Do you remember when you first got a hold of „Passages“?
I would have to say approximately 8 years ago. I believe that I first became aware of this album through familiarity with Ravi’s work, as opposed to the more likely channel of Philip’s. It was just the well-worn process of hearing a great musician’s work for the first time and then digging through as much of the rest of their discography as time allows.
What makes this album so important for you?
The simple answer is that this is the best collection of modern music that I’ve ever heard in my life so far. There’s other individual songs that I feel reach higher than any single piece from „Passages“, Jimi’s „1983, A Merman…“ for example, but taken as a whole, the variety and almost unwavering quality across the 55 minutes are very impressive to me.
Are you generally interested in either the Minimalism school Glass is a part of, and the heritage Ravi Shankar represents, or are there preferences?
Both traditions are of interest, for both similar and differing reasons. The Western minimalism side’s long form accuracy of performance is astounding. Of course many pieces utilize synthesizers or machines for part or all of the sound, but there are many examples of highly trained musicians playing these very fast and demanding arrangements in sizable groups with amazing accuracy. Hearing a quartet of woodwinds or vocalists arpeggiate 32nd notes for 20 minutes in synchronization is certainly impressive, especially when each player is playing in the pocket of another’s notes and one weak link could lose the all-important groove.
I feel that the general Hindustani music I’ve been able to discover, not too much beyond key names are readily available to foreigners like myself unfortunately, is an amazing marriage of musical rules and improvisations. Other cultures undoubtedly have similar structures, but the long form interplay between a sitar and tabla create a sound that appears loose and informal at first, but one where the performers are very highly trained and aware of their actions as a group. I’m certainly not deeply aware of the compositional rules of ragas & talas, etc. but familiar enough to appreciate what those musicians know themselves. Even in the related vocal styles of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Pakistani performers, the communal aspect of group support for the soloist is wonderful.
In common, the two traditions place emphasis on extended songs beyond the popular format, which when done correctly, can leave a profound impact on the listener. Also, the aforementioned backing of smaller choral support often features drawn-out vocal melodies that really appeal to my ear, especially with the female voice. I’ve enjoyed working with a couple vocalists in this style, which can even sound great just floating over a groove alone without the usual emphasis on a soloist drawing the main focus. Read the rest of this entry »
How would Frankie do it? #2