Bastard Jazz Recordings
The second Lord Echo album sees Mike Fabulous (he of The Black Seeds, Fly My Pretties, Fabulous/Arabia and so many other musical main events and sidesteps) reprising his sorcerer role, conjuring beautiful spells of music that surge and waft through jazz and dance ideals; one minute it’s disco-tinged, the next it’s spiked with soul – sometimes it’s both at the same time.
Take Leila Adu’s fantastic guest spot for Molten Lava; it opens with a hint of a Motown feel, or at least the reimagined Motown sound that the likes of Myron & E are expert at peddling and then it leaps into 70s disco, one of those great album tracks that Candi Staton was knocking out back when people forgot about her for a bit.
Elsewhere there’s plenty of snug-groove feels (and perhaps one or two smug-groove feels too), so good, infectious – like Bohemian Idol, all Curtis Mayfield-esque in the intro, or the opener, Endless Dawn. It announces itself like something from Santana’s second great run of music (around the time of Welcome).
The guest-list helps, sure, it’s a who’s who of great Wellington musicians – Toby Laing, Lisa Tomlins, Leila Adu, Lucien Johnson, Jonathan Crayford, Mara TK, amazing talents, all of them. Many of them feature here as vocalists, because for the most part it’s Lord Echo playing (almost) every aspect of each piece, certainly it’s his show in that sense. But like a great ringleader he brings the party to the people and brings people to that party, sharing his sounds from behind his pseudonym, no limelight stealing here. If anything he’s burying himself back into the music. So with the music, so inside it is Lord Echo.
Curiosities is full of – well – exactly that: the sharp funk of Digital Haircut falls away into Street Knowledge’s Bobby Womack slide’n’glide; Blaxploitation-era soundtracks and soundscapes fusing with horn-drenched 60s pop-rock and 70s disco is certainly the overall blueprint for the album. But inside that schematic Lord Echo drizzles down the very best aspects of what people were calling some kind of “Wellington sound” over a decade ago. Ignore the misuse of dub/roots labels it comes from jazz – and it comes from the Jazz School in fact; it’s about a meeting of (musical) minds as much as it’s about any one definitive (aspect of) style. It’s about great musical souls colliding, about buddies so in tune with what any one tune requires. It’s music to keep you curious – you want to hear what will happen next.
Put It In My Head has an overt dance-y vamp to propel it, whereas Ghost Hands curls up and slinks on down the road, mellifluous guitar cruising out over the late-night shuffle of drums.
So many sounds on this album – all of them great – it’s a record full of ideas (good ones, all of ‘em!) and it’s an album bonded by wonderful playing to suit these sharp ideas.
Curiosities is a little slice of magic – a record that excepts so well: add this and that to your playlist, drop a tune in a DJ set, but it also plays through as an album. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard this year. And, yep, sure, that’s a long list – it’s been a very fine year for music, but this was certainly one of the nicest surprises. I knew to expect quality, I had to (partly) assume that I might not quite be so taken with it – but I’ve been bowled over by the brilliance of this record, it’s so warm sounding, so happy, made with love, it radiates that love. And there’s a soulful, groove-infused nonchalance to it too. This record probably doesn’t want to be hyped up as the best thing ever – but damn, it’s pretty fucking close to that ya know!