John Morales: The M&M Mixes Volume 3
“There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” If Duke Ellington's words are worth bearing in mind when dealing with an oft-maligned genre such as disco, John Morales' mixes also do much to break down even the most resistant listener's aversion to the form, though it also should be said that his Midas Touch extends into multiple other genres such as funk, soul, jazz, and salsa. A triple CD set featuring over three hours of music, this third volume of mixes presents an amazing overview of a small part of Morales' total output—after forming The M&M Mix with his late partner Sergio Munzibai, Morales was involved in creating 650 mixes between 1982 and 1990 (as a sign of the esteem with which his work is held, BBE Records even took its name from Morales' mix of Universal Robot Bands' “Barely Breakin' Even”). Familiar names such as Teddy Pendergrass and Johnny Hammond appear, but The M&M Mixes project isn't so much about big names as it is great, era-defining tunes like The Dramatics' “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.”
In an era dominated by the perfection made possible by digital production, it's refreshing to hear music overflowing with the exuberance that comes from live in-studio performance. In a typical track, blazing horns, pulsating bass lines, wah-wah guitars, strings, and percussion (drums, congas, timbales, bongos, cowbell, triangle) form a rich instrumental tapestry for soulful blends of lead and background vocalizing. Morales' presence becomes especially conspicuous during the deep instrumental breaks that regularly occur when the mixes stretch out to nine or ten minutes.
Alternately joyous and wistful, Jean Carn's “Was That All It Was” is a perfect exemplar of the collection's glorious sound. Carn's impossibly soulful vocal is front and center, of course, but the track's as appealing for the epic arrangement unspooling alongside her. Also on the joyous tip are irrepressible jams by Sandy Barber (“I Think I'll Do Some Stepping On My Own”), The Jones Girls (“You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else”), Loleatta Holloway (“Hit and Run”), and Debbie Trusty (“Searchin' for Some Lovin'”). The set's funkier side comes through in T-Connection's “Do What You Wanna Do” and especially in its steamy, Sly and The Family Stone-styled groove, and Curtis Hairston's “I Want Your Lovin' (Just a Little Bit).” In one of the set's more aggressive cuts, Pendergrass tears into “If You Know Like I Know” like a man possessed, while a jazzier feel surfaces in Donald Byrd and The Blackbyrds' “Rock Creek Park” and Skyy's “First Time Around.”
At times a decidedly ‘70s vibe comes through in the clavinets, syndrums, slap bass, and analog synths that pepper some of the tracks, all of which are beefed up with full-blown arrangements. When a stripped-down moment occurs, as happens at the start of “Only You” when Pendergrass is heard first alone and then backed by piano, it stands out for being such a rarity. One thus comes away from this third volume of The M&M Mixes thinking of it as a history lesson of the most pleasurable kind.