Monday, December 14, 2009

I Know Karate: The Songs of Chaz Jankel

I don't write about it all that much on this blog, but one of my deepest and abiding musical pleasures is post-disco and early 80's R&B, particularly when experienced performers and producers, looking for a sound beyond dead-as-nails disco, forged a new sound marrying the dance-insistent beats of disco to the synthesizer sounds found in funk and pFunk. Some of my favourite stuff from that period is produced by Luther Vandross - who should be remembered for being more than an overweight, closeted crooner of schmaltz appearing frequently on Detroit cable stations... For example, Aretha Franklin's 1982 album Jump To It (and titular single) is so perfectly executed that I can only marvel that it hasn't stuck around in the popular mind as much as Diana Ross' Chic-produced albums.

Earlier this year I was taking the expensive and long time-ride to my ladyfriend's place in one of the more eastern boroughs of Montreal (just how east? Well, enough that the graffiti is equally divided between swastikas and dicks), and, being a bit tipsy, forced my driver to put on Aretha Franklin's Jump To It. We listened to the song twice in a row, pumping it, and doing our best car-dancing, and by the end, the guy was the proud owner of that CD. I felt I'd done my evangalical duty, both to Ms. Franklin and Mr. Vandross.

Chaz Jankel, a white British keyboardist and one-time member of Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick) might seem an unlikely source of some seriously awesome R&B, but this is the guy wrote Ai No Corrida, which would go on to be a defining (and chart-friendly) song for Quincy Jones. Mr. Jankel has quiet the talent - even though this well-produced and ear candy, there's a rhythmic leanness to the production and song-writing that avoids the excesses of string-laden disco or snooze-worthy house. Check it out above.

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