I’ve often said that one of the great joys of discovering music – one of the great joys of reviewing music – used to be when you were sent something, no expectations, no prior knowledge, no idea but press play. See what happens. It’s different now. We don’t even need music reviews. There are a few of us out there that still want them, a few that want to still write them too – but no one needs them. The music arrives – it’s here. The information about it is everywhere. Back in the day the reviewer held a special key, could unlock the music (and hopefully something about it) before many others.
And through reviewing I got to hear some great music. Obviously there was a lot of shit too – still is. But you looked forward to the letterbox-treats, not the letterbox-threats…
My first regular reviewing gig was for NZ Musician. And I grew to quickly see the magazine as a waste of time, but I happily wasted mine learning to write for it – learning to craft a review down to 150 words. I would chip away. Writing 300 words, then 250, then 200…I would hand-write them. Then type up that scribble and, to begin with, I’d mail them off in an envelope. It was the very early days of email. Later I would send attachments. I think I even sent a disc in the mail a couple of times…
I had conned my way into NZ Musician by writing to them and saying that I had “expert jazz and blues knowledge”. I mean, in a way, I did. I’d been listening to jazz and blues since I was about 8 years old. And I saw the gap – it was a way in, no one seemed to be writing about jazz and blues CDs for NZ Musician. It was a way of introducing myself and hopefully standing out from the crowd. It worked, I was “taken on my word” and sent a new album by The Nairobi Trio and some stride piano staples as interpreted by a teenage prodigy from Napier. Those were my first albums to review – and they were great. A good start. I liked them. And liked writing about them.
Then I got a few more discs – every month or so – and wrote them up. It started to stray from the brief (jazz and blues) and so did I…eventually I wrote up a few interviews for the magazine, and a gig or two. But it was mostly CDs, even if they weren’t always jazz or blues.
The first “wow” moment arrived when I received an album by a guy called Stinky Jim. He’s an Auckland-based DJ – and I knew that. But not much else. Well, I knew he hosted a show – Stinky Sessions/Stinky Grooves, he was one of the guys everyone knew from bFM…something like that…my knowledge was shaky. I lived in Wellington. I had just heard about him.
But the music on this album – Stinky Grooves Sessions – was amazing to me. A perfect mix-album. So well devised, thoughtful and intriguing, eclectic, it had a real – live – pulse to it as it flowed through various dance and reggae offshoots.
It was the late 1990s and I had had a taste of this sort of stuff from my first record store job. That was when dance music and DJ mix albums were tumbling in every week and I learned about some key figures – Kruder & Dorfmeister and Carl Craig and Carl Cox and, well, all-sorts…Nightmares on Wax, Roni Size…some of this stuff was amazing, some was flavor-of-the-week only.
Later it would be Thievery Corporation and the Late Night and Back To Mine mixes…
But before a heap of that stuff I unwrapped a parcel that contained this Stinky Grooves Sessions CD. It had a gray cover – gray and blue I think…
But it swiftly became my favourite album, and I remember – even – where I was and what I was doing when I reviewed it. (That’s not something that usually stays with you). I was on a road-trip to Tauranga and I took the Stinky Jim mix in the car. It was perfect. It was university holidays and I decided to drive on to Auckland for a few days, spring a surprise on my brother. I slept on the floor in the lounge of his flat and spend the days writing reviews – I played Stinky Sessions over and again. And wrote up something about it, raving, I guess.
And that was okay, because I had gone on to find all sorts of other things – but every now and then I would think about how good it would be hear that particular mix again.
Stinky Jim – aka Jim Pickney – kept making things. He created the record label Round Trip Mars which released plenty of good things but seemed to exist primarily out of Jim’s unswerving dedication to SJD (one of my favourite musicians too). Jim Pickney is not only a great DJ and listener he’s one of my favourite music writers. He wrote, for many years, for The Listener. He had wide-ranging taste and I often agreed with his assessments and if I didn’t I still liked the way he phrased it and tried most of what he recommended.
A few years back – I think it was at the Gorillaz concert in Auckland in late 2010 – I was sitting next to him. He introduced himself. That’s the one and only time we have met. (David Farrier was on the other side, or just behind me in fact, he leaned down and shook my hand, introduced himself – all he’s ever done since is bitch about me on Twitter or Facebook, which is his wont).
Jim Pickney has corresponded with me a bit – mostly about SJD – he’s kindly supplied promos CDs, advance copies…
And so one time, I’m not even sure how it came up, I wrote to him and just did the full gush – told him how I loved his work as a writer and how, in particular, his Stinky Grooves Sessions mix CD from around 1998 was a revelation to me. I told him I searched the chuck-out bins now for a replacement copy…had pieced together a lot of the individual tracks, but obviously it could never have the flow he had created.
I could get tracks by David Holmes to follow Howie B, and then add Roni Size and Kruder & Dorfmeister – but it wouldn’t sound the way Stinky Jim had framed it.
Then he wrote straight back, asked for my address, and told me he’d make me a copy…
A week or so later a burnt-CD arrived, with a typed-up tracklist. The album I had loved.
I could now love it again.
And I did. Straight away it went into the player, then ripped to my iTunes, then into the car.
It’s been in the car for a few years, and it goes in the slot and around and around for a week or two over many mini car-trips. Then it’s foldered and filed as the next new review-promo or whatever other old favourite gets a turn.
But I still dig it out now, every few months, and give it a whirl. Most recently just this morning.
It’s one of my all-time favourite mix albums. It sits in my head – all of the wonderful music from it, we start with Sly & Robbie, move through Buju Banton and on to Incognito’s glorious 10-minute high of Out of The Eye of The Storm. It sits in my head like only a small handful of mix-CDs, a compilation called A Journey Into Ambient Groove, Everything But The Girl’s entry into the Back To Mine series, The K & D Sessions…and this. Stinky Grooves Sessions by Stinky Jim.
But my favourite, for nostalgia, for the buzz of the discovery, for the strength of the music, for the level of introductions that came from this, for the skill and flow and thought involved, will always by Stinky Grooves Sessions by Stinky Jim.
I’ve never heard a bad word said about Jim Pickney. I don’t really know him but everyone I know that does considers him a scholar and a gent. I hear that now in this mixtape. If that makes sense. It’s amazing to think that someone’s own personality can be infused with the music of others.
For more about Jim Pickney/Stinky Jim read the excellent piece over at Audioculture here.