Benny Blanko: 8 Ft. In The Air

Don't let 8 Ft. In The Air's minimal cover design mislead you into thinking that its contents are similarly splapdash. In fact, some of the material extends back almost a decade, as the album collects material Blanko—'Benny Blanko from the Bronx,' is how he's identified on the 2002 12” Playhouse debut All The Way Down—issued on his own Homestyle label between 1995 and 1999 alongside newer songs. There's a deep strain of classic soul that constantly seeps into these house tracks, an historical dimension mirrored by the hip-hop elements that occasionally appear (most overtly on the title track where a sampled speaker's voice is underlaid by laconic, loping beats). The album starts with “We Can Fly,” a slow, narcotized prelude, but really lifts off with “Beautiful,” a stunner that Danio's sweet vocal lifts to the heavens. For seven glorious minutes, Blanko conjures a delectably warm and sensuous groove as supple support for her master class in soul—merely the first peak of many on this exceptional album.

Other tracks mine the same soulful well. “Put Yr Hands,” for example, begins with snippety hi-hats funkily dancing about a repetitive bass drum and enticingly low-slung bass lines but Blanko deepens the sound with warm Rhodes chords and irresistible soul singing. Elsewhere, “Beatdown On Electric Ave.” offers seven blissful minutes of uptempo looped rhythms warmed by rubbery bass lines and, abetted by vocal exhortations, “Kharmelion” maintains its irrepressibly animated pace for a full ten minutes. “12 Bits Of Funk” digs even deeper by resurrecting the best sounds of the '70s—subtle wah-wah accents, funky clavinet figures, congas—and drapes then across the most potent bass-driven funk groove heard in recent memory. With material so consistently strong, 8 Ft. In The Air conflates soul, minimal house, and hip-hop into a superb set that maintains the high level established by other recent Playhouse releases like Losoul's Getting Even and Melchior Productions' The Meaning.

October 2004