VA: The Men In The Glass Booth
BBE Music

Compiled by Al Kent, The Men In The Glass Booth gathers remixes and re-edits by some of the disco era's most influential DJs, among them Walter Gibbons, Bobby DJ Guttadaro, Tom Savarese, Jellybean Benitez, Tee Scott, and John Luongo, into a single, bursting-at-the-seams package. The sheer amount of music presented on the collection, available in a triple-CD format or a two-part ten-LP set (a forty-page booklet featuring photos and text accompanies it), is staggering: thirty tracks in all, the set weighs in at almost three-and-a-half hours. Interestingly, despite such an incredible running time, only a small number of tracks push past the ten-minute mark (at thirteen, the Tom Savarese remix of Love Symphony Orchestra's breezy sparkler “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” is the longest), and in some cases cuts end sooner than desired.

One of the best things about the set is the music's natural live feel: these are ‘70s cuts light years removed from the era of anemic programmed tracks; instead, the material is performed by singers, guitarists, bassists, and drummers in real time and as such oozes no small amount of soul, spontaneity, and high energy. Generous helpings of strings, vibes, flutes, clavinets, timbales, and congas lend additional flavour to a collection that gives ample space to instrumental as much as vocal cuts.

For those with a distaste for anything disco-related, it bears worth mentioning that the cuts, many of them influenced by Philly soul yet still geared for the NY dance floor, are more “Love Train” than “Disco Duck” or “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” Further to that, a cut such as Lake Shore Drive's 1978 “The Disco Scene” sounds like the kind of thing Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz might have used as a template for the Tom Tom Club when it formed in the early ‘80s.

Starting things off on a mighty note, Luongo's remix of Leon Collins' “I Just Wanna Say I Love You” bolts from the gate with an anthemic slice that's more R&B than disco, though it's undeniably infectious no matter which way you cut it. The lead vocal oozes soul, the band's tight, and the backing vocals add just the right amount of sweetener in a 1974 tune you'll wish was two times longer. As tasty are Tony Gioe's remix of Marboo's “What About Love,” a mighty exercise in disco-funk replete with vibes, wah-wah guitar, silky strings, and “woo-woo” vocal accents, and the Jim Burgess remix of the Tony Valor Sound Orchestra's sultry “Love Has Come My Way.” Speaking of orchestras, “Magic Bird of Fire” sees The Salsoul Orchestra (Salsoul Records' house band) tackling a rollicking Latin-disco-funk makeover of Stravinsky's L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), while Guttadaro's remix of Sparkle Tuhran & Friends' “Handsome Man” spikes its soulful vocal and horns with funky rhythm guitar straight out of Niles Rodgers' playbook.

Elsewhere, the KC-less Sunshine Band's “Black Water Gold,” its horn riffs vaguely reminiscent of The Average White Band's “Pick Up the Pieces,” is an almost impossibly tight instrumental jam armed with a powerhouse drum groove, and none other than Gladys Knight & The Pips tear it up in Walter Gibbons' twelve-minute remix of “It's a Better Than Good Time.” Plus there are moments of joy that are sweetly melancholic (David Todd's remix of The Skyliners' “The Love Bug (Done Bit Me Again)”) and totally unbridled (a John Morales ‘Sunshine Sound Acetate' edit of Ruby Andrews' “I Wanna Be Near You”). Yes, a few cheesy moments emerge (e.g., the lyric “It ain't that hard to dance / It's a lot easier than taking off your pants...” in Mantus's “(Dance It) Freestyle Rhythm”), but the music's for the most part dynamic and holds up far better than one might have expected, forty years on from when most of it first appeared. The title of one of the many Salsoul Orchestra cuts appearing on the set pretty much speaks for the package in its entirety: “It's Good for the Soul.”

February 2017