Chantal Acda
The Balustrade Ensemble
Ten Favourite Labels 2015

Chantal Acda
The Balustrade Ensemble
Basic Soul Unit
Bersarin Quartett
Bing & Ruth
Wil Bolton
Ian William Craig
Cryo Chamber Collab.
Dikeman Noble Serries
Paul Ellis
Ensemble Economique
Reiko Füting
Jim Ghedi
Hakobune & Dirk Serries
Mary Halvorson
Chihei Hatakeyama
Iskra String Quartet
Mano Le Tough
Deborah Martin
Lubomyr Melnyk
Multicast Dynamics
James Murray
Mute Forest
New Order
Ø [Phase]
Post Office
Nadia Reid
Max Richter
Will Samson
Time Is a Mountain
Michael Trommer
Tuxedo. / Cult W. No Name
Understated Theory
Zero T

Compilations / Mixes / Remixes / Reissues
Sylvain Chauveau
John Foxx & Harold Budd
Mathew Jonson
Le Freak

EPs / Cassettes / DVDs / Mini-Albums / Singles
Mr. Bios
Zero T / LSB / T. Prose / FD

VA: Le Freak - Music Inspired by Chic compiled by Joey Negro
Z Records

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this heartfelt homage to Chic isn't how good it is—that's something one would anticipate considering that the project was masterminded by Z Records' Dave Lee (aka Joey Negro)—but that the album's fourteen tracks sound so much like the work of the same band rather than different contributors. Such cohesiveness is easily explained, however: in using the Chic template as guide and inspiration, each of the artists involved drinks from the same artistic well, so to speak, resulting in tracks that while obviously contrasting in certain respects sound very much like they belong together.

Though Chic needs no introduction, here's a brief refresher: responsible for massive hits such as “Good Times,” “Le Freak,” and “We Are Family,” the group was formed in 1976 by guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards, with drummer Tony Thompson recruited a year later to form Chic's instrumental core (sadly, Edwards and Thompson are no longer with us, the former having passed on in 1996 and the latter in 2003). With two female singers added—Norma Jean Wright the first, Alfa Anderson the second, and many others thereafter—and with strings and piano sweetening the songs' arrangements, Chic's signature sound crystallized. Though the group's disco connection was met with derision in some circles, it was warmly embraced in others and, if anything, is regarded with more adoration today than ever before. In a world where the number of guitarists is legion, Rodgers created a guitar sound that's unmistakably his, and Chic's immaculately produced records still sound fabulous almost forty years after they first appeared.

Replications of Rodgers' funky guitar are all over this collection, and as fine as the vocal parts are, the album material hits hardest in those rare moments when the singers, strings, and horns drop out and the spotlight's given to the rhythm section; it's at such moments that the trademark interaction between Rodgers' guitar and Edwards' bass is invoked. Le Freak's a collection of Chic-inspired cuts, not covers, with one exception: a Latin-tinged re-work of “Good Times (Como Vamos A Gozar)” by Charanga 76 that, while well-intentioned, sounds strangely sluggish when heard alongside the breezy original.

If there's a 2015 club hit waiting to happen here, it's Delegation's “Heartache No. 9,” an irrepressibly funky floor-filler spiked by a deliciously soulful vocal and, as the magnificent late-inning break makes so evidently clear, one of the best guitar-and-bass pairings on the album. Elsewhere, the funky bass and guitar lines pair up throughout Change's luscious “Heaven of My Life” to equally ravishing effect, and, having actually been produced by Edwards and Rogers, Odyssey's “Together” offers a first-hand sampling of the guitarist's indelible rhythm playing and the bassist's tasteful less-is-more choices. And though the songs are not played by Chic (“Together” a partial exception), jubilant jams such as Van Jones' “Not About That (Show Me Some Respect),” The Sunburst Band's “The Secret Life of Us,” and Ann Margret's “Everybody Needs Somebody Sometimes” are so true in spirit and style to the group's blueprint that they could pass for Chic originals. It's certainly easy to picture an approving Nile Rodgers smiling broadly whilst digging into this excellent homage.

November 2015