The Way of All Flesh
Getting nowhere with Al Green, in 1973 singer Sylvia Robinson took Pillow Talk, a song shed written for the R&B superstar, and recorded the tune herself. That 22 orgasms were supposedly counted on Donna Summers later Love To Love You dont mean jack after a session with Robinsons elegant erotica, which even today could teach females a thing or two about makin a man rock-hard, even if hes gay. Sadly, foreplay and seduction as a central theme in music eventually fell out of fashion; nowadays, it takes way too much imagination to bother with stuff so subtle and complex. That is, until branding and lifestyle became a means to an end for club culture and dance music. Enter Naked Music Recordings.
While Brit superclub labels like Ministry of Sound and Cream package and sell wild n crazy lifestyles of DJ-worshippin Anglo keds Xing to the beat, Jay Denes and his Naked partners Dave Booneshoft, Bruno Ybarra and Miguel Migs are comin off a whole notha tip. Theres no way in hell the Naked crew could not be straight-out disciples of the dimmed-light, pre-coitus grooves laid out on Pillow Talk. Which is why the Naked label, inanely slotted into the house-music category, really isnt dance in the strictest sense. Instead, the music is more like a patented formula of mid- to up-tempo liquid soul/jazz moods soaked through n through with oxytocin (the hormone a woman secretes when sexually aroused, if you have to ask). Think Playboy music if Hugh Hefner had thought of it first.
Naked evolved after the release of 98s Whats on Your Mind (Om Records), produced by Denes and Booneshoft. A light-jazz n R&B affair that played up the almost forgotten virtues of stripped-down mellow soul, the album quickly became an essential among urban hipsters. It wasnt long before Denes convinced Oms back-then A&R man Bruno Ybarra to jump ship and join him and Booneshoft in establishing Naked Music. Since then, the label has earned the respect of other deep-house boutique labels for serious groove lovers that rose out of the 90s, such as Pan Handle, Guidance, Francois K.s Yellow, and the U.K.s Glasgow Underground, Soma and Peng.
For the past three years, Naked has offered a delectable assortment of CDs, EPs and 12-inch-vinyl singles that are slippery-warm-in-love-juice symphonies concocted from the deepest of soul and the swankest nu-jazz house. After signing a distribution deal with Astralwerks, the label recently reissued five of its seven previously released albums, along with the unveiling of its newest creation, Nude Dimensions 3. But this long-awaited addition to the Naked family is a disappointment well, its only real crime is that it isnt seeped in the same baby-doll sexiness that Nude Dimensions volumes 1 and 2 shamelessly flaunt. A 16-track ä 38 shout-out to the party people, Dimensions 3 is more percussive and up-tempo than the rest of its Naked siblings combined, sashaying toward the dance floor rather than cocktails n dry-hump action on the sofa. The sets most attractive quality is the generous mixing options it endows to the truly imaginative jock. A back-jacker like Soul Patrols Keep It Country, if caressed by Marvin Gayes Got To Give It Up, would incite hallelujahs. Or how bout a lil Missy Elliott rockin hips big-ass style with Aqua-notes Nowhere? Likewise, some love from a classic like Kraftwerks Numbers oughta send the Morgan Geists Lullaby through the roof.
Yet, mix mileage n all, these tracks just dont yield the naive blue-light soul that bubbles forth from the labels very first single, 98s Breakin It Down. Featuring Oakland-based singer Ledisi, the song serves as an excellent opener for Nude Dimensions Volume 1. But while Naked Music tags Bare Essentials Volume 1 as its unofficial best of album, there are those whod beg to differ. After all, wasnt it on Dimensions 1 that we were first introduced to the masterful production skills of Bay Area sound architect Miguel Migs, a.k.a. Petalpusher? And what about Catherine Russell? Cradled in the emotional bass rhythms of Blue Sixs Music & Wine, Russells rich, unadorned contralto brings long-absent luster and excitement back to the club-diva arena. While Nude Dimensions 1 and the Bare Essentials sets each boast two mixes by Jay Denes, a.k.a. Lovetronics classic You Are Love, the Afrotronic version on Dimensions 1 worked overtime spreading the gospel of Naked as one of the year 2000s top deep-house anthems.
Mixed by Mauricio Aviles, Dimensions Volume 2 offers vocal jewels like Always with Lisa Shaw and Aquanotes Zoe Ellis on Petalpushers True Love mix. Petalpusher also does a fine job with his reworking of MJ Coles Sincere. Other stompers include Astro Jaxxs Losing Control, James Perris The Power (Atjazz mix), Coolys Hot Box Could You Love Me? and Solar Houses Got 2 B U.
There are a good many of these titles on Bare Essentials Volume 1 and this is where it all gets a bit repetitive; most of the tracks on the album are really reconfigured mixes, or the original versions of songs that have already been introduced as remixes on earlier compilations. Nonetheless, the record serves as a good Naked primer, and undeniably the best tester disc before droppin coin on the others. In fact, Bare Essentials does greater justice to some of these tracks than the three discs released before it. Music & Wine re-emerges even more beautiful, shrouded in the dark, melancholic soul of Attaboys vocal mix. Same with Denes much lighter Conga Lounge touch-up of the song, which billows in an airy tropical breeze. Denes also smoothes over the harder edges of Breakin It Down with his Jays Blue vocal cut. The discs most euphoric moments, however, live in the sheer elegance of Pures original edit, which makes a good argument that not every song needs a reworking. Petalpushers irrelevant take on the cut (Dimensions 2) easily drives that point home.
Tired of remix roulettes? Nakeds Carte Blanche Volumes 1 and 2 keeps it simple and adventurous all at the same time. Thats cause the emphasis is more on exotic jazz delicately upstaged with breakbeats, funk and slithery four-to-the-floor. If the lazy beatnik funk of tracks like Global Communication, Only Child, Molasses and Heartbeat on Blanche Volume 1 cant ease your pain, child, nothin will. Mixed by Ybarra and Gabriel Rene of Aquanote, the set also features a nice barrage of sassy-ass movas like Isolee, Soulmate and the earthy, rapturous grooves of Aquanotes Only. Ybarras and Renes Blanche Volume 2 swan-dives into jazz terrain with the light blaxploitation licks of Flute Salad. Its a chillin fruit-smoothies session from here on out, featuring cuts like Sunday 17th, the horn rich Flight, the acid jazz love of Soul Magic 98 and the luxuriant jet-set madness of Wai Wans Goddess.
If all this wasnt enough, get ready for the January release of Jay Denes a.k.a. Blue Sixs first full-length drop, Beautiful Tomorrow. Egged on by NYC DJ/producer kingpin Francois Kevorkian to just shut the fuck up and quit whinin n moanin about the horrible state of todays music, Denes humbly put together 14 Naked-ized tracks, including dub versions of Pure, Grace and Music & Wine. These are solid re-mixed versions of his previously released cuts, and the new tracks showcase the talents of Naked vocalists Lisa Shaw, Catherine Russell and Lysa. Some of the latter tunes seem bogged down in what has become the signature Naked sound, though. While Russell works well with the gentle backing of Very Good Friends, Shaws vocals are simply layered over more Naked fodder on Lets Do It Together, and Russell suffers a similar fate on Beautiful Tomorrow.
With Shaw and Migs both set to release their own full-length projects on Naked in the spring, one can only hope that, unlike Denes, both artists have the intuition to musically surpass Nakeds long-established groove. While Beautiful Tomorrow is by no means a bad listening experience, it doesnt much further the journey, either. And thats what made Naked stand out in the first place.
Collectively, this music travels on the spiritual side of sensuality, elegant dance-music aesthetics and sophisticated rhythms for adults only. Its like Prince says in his cut Get Up: Letta woman be a woman and a man be a man. Thats right, keds, put down the Day-Glo and the X. Time to grow up, getta job and for heavens sake git Naked.
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