Lord Echo: Curiosities
VA: Teeko & B. Bravo Present: Tempo Dreams Vol. 2
New Zealand-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Fabs demonstrates a deft stylistic command on his sophomore Lord Echo collection Curiosities. In an artist's statement that aptly captures the project's open-minded and embracing character, Fabs asserts, “Part of my approach has always been to try and take elements of a style of music that may be somewhat distasteful to my ears—say disco or techno—and try to remake it using my preferred sonic palette of 1960s production techniques and the influences of my favourite styles of music—Jamaican reggae, East and West African music, and American funk and soul.” Awareness of Fabs' gifts increased when influential tastemakers like Gilles Peterson, Oliver Wang (Soulsides), and Richard Dorfmeister spread the word about Melodies, the 2010 debut Lord Echo set, and one imagines something similar could happen with the new release, too.
Many of Curiosities' tracks grew out of personal relationships Fabs has with his collaborators and guests, people like Tony Laing, Leila Adu, and Mara TK, and the familial rapport Fabs shares with such individuals seeps into the music. Its occasional reggae vibe doesn't come as a major surprise, given that Fabs is known in some circles for the production work he's done with the New Zealand reggae act The Black Seeds. The album material oozes a positive peace-love-unity vibe (explicitly in Fabs' boogie-licious cover version of Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas's “The Creator Has a Master Plan” and its “Peace and happiness for every man” message) that one associates with the ‘60s, values that in our current state of global turbulence seem woefully remote.The scene-setting “Endless Dawn” eases the album in on a trippy wave of African percussion and shimmering organ tones before slipping into a modal jazz vamp that echoes A Love Supreme. An early highlight, the sunlit “Bohemian Idol” augments a vocal by Toby Laing (so smooth it could make Smokey Robinson jealous) with a clavinet-sweetened dub-funk skank. Adu's sultry vocal turn on “Molten Lava,” which alternates between string-kissed reverie and pulsating disco, is also memorable, as are the vocal rides taken by Mara TK on the Afro-infused burner “Put it in My Head” and Lisa Tomlins on “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” “Digital Haircut,” “Street Knowledge,” and the Motown-esque “What is That Feeling” see Fabs digging into honking, soul-funk workouts that would do Sly Stone and James Brown proud. Curiosities impresses for the pure listening pleasures it provides but also for the convincing simulation Fabs effects of loose jams packed with horn players, keyboardists, guitarists, bassists, and drummers.
Lord Echo doesn't appear on Tempo Dreams Vol. 2 though, with the compilation being so stylistically adventurous, he very well could have. Certainly Teeko & B. Bravo's sequel to Tall Black Guy's inaugural 2012 collection is an encompassing affair that draws soul, funk, and hip-hop into its orbit and pulls together tracks from artists residing in the US, Canada, London, and Germany. No fools they, the San Francisco-based producers (who also issue record under The Starship Connection alias) don't deviate radically from the template and tone of the first installment, content to serve up another healthy round of soulful electronic-funk and vocal-based cuts.
Like Curiosities, Tempo Dreams Vol. 2 oozes a warm vibe where tracks feel as if they were created as much with analogue as digital gear. Sonic references to the ‘80s abound in the hot-wired synths, Rhodes sprinkles, and drum machine rhythms that pepper the eleven tracks. Emblematic of the style are Teeko & B. Bravo's own Starship Connection cut “We Can Go All Night,” an unabashedly sexy jam that exudes a silken quality in its hushed vocals and bedroom vibe, and Rojai & E. Live's “Hardpressed,” which is elevated by a healthy dose of squiggly ‘80s synths and soulful male-and-female lead vocals.
The set's hip-hop vibe surfaces during S3's earthy, bass-pumping “Don't Stop” and Mugpush's “Came Too Far” (specifically the rhymes Black Spade drops over the latter tune's loping funk rhythms), while a soul-jazz feel infuses Tony Ozier's instrumental head-nodder “Back to the Mitten” and Atjazz's serenading “One.” On the international tip, Belgium producer Pomrad contributes a memorable slice of vocodered synth-funk in “Dans,” and The Insomniax gives the electro-hop of “A Vibe For Chrissy” a UK flavour in its vocal delivery. Any listener with a jones for soulful, vocal-heavy funk jams would do well to track down Tempo Dreams Vol. 2.