Arto Mwambe: Live at Robert Johnson Vol. 6
Live at Robert Johnson

No frontin' here: Arto Mwambe's Live at Robert Johnson is my favourite in the series to date. How could it not be when the release is so full of funky and warm house grooves and sunkissed synth melodies? An infectious old-school vibe courses through the material, and its earthy and organic feel is bolstered by the groups' penchant for uncluttered arrangements. Straight from the mixing desks of Frankfurt duo Chris Beisswenger and Phillip Lauer (producing together since 2004), the mix departs from the norm by rejecting the usual approach—cherry-picking and stitching together a smattering of favourite tracks by current producers—for one that finds the group streaming eleven originals into a seventy-minute live set. What results is a sweetly grooving flow of percolating Roland drum machine patterns, hand claps, radiant synthesizer riffs, funk guitars, and piano and organ melodies, with all of it laid down with the highest of spirits. The vocoder-and-Cybotron-styled “OHM Balance” opts for an electro-house vibe, while “Duster FC” digs into a glorious mix of silken synth strings, funky house pulses, and seductive piano playing. Memorable too are “One Lonely Knight,” with its interlocking cross-currents of slinky disco hi-hats and chunky house chords, and the soulful and suitably rapturous “Love Lift.” By today's standards, a track such as “Greatest Love” sounds simple in the extreme—it'll certainly win no awards for innovative drum programming—but that, like Art Mwambe's music in general, is a key part of its charm. The group's sound harks back to a halcyon era when dance music was fundamentally about joy and good times, not the latest plug-in.

July 2010