Various Artists

British Hustle: The Sound of British Jazz-Funk from 1974-1982

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The names Heatwave and Imagination should be familiar to most American fans of '70s and '80s funk, disco, and R&B. Otherwise, virtually all of the other groups on British Hustle should be new discoveries. Even in the wake of scads of compilations dedicated to documenting England's rare-groove phenomenon, Soul Jazz has managed to come up with a thoroughly absorbing disc that ties up so many of England's forgotten (or never known) jazz-funk-disco groups. Like just about every other geography-specific scene that existed during the period covered here, this loosely-bound-together group of groups made for a thriving underground. Few of these bands were as tight and accomplished as their American inspirations -- including but not limited to Roy Ayers, Slave, the Blackbyrds, Kool & the Gang -- and hardly any of them had the support of a wealthy record label, but the high spirit and skill is evident in almost every case. Atmosfear's instrumental "Dancing in Outer Space," an underground disco classic that's still spun by DJs today, is the most oft-compiled track here; if you were to subtract the horns and light keyboard accents, it could be mistaken for A Certain Ratio, indicating the tangible ties between jazz-funk and post-punk. Central Line's "Don't Tell Me" isn't quite as lively as their biggest U.S. hit, the life-affirming "Walking Into Sunshine," but it holds an instantly memorable refrain, in addition to showing how pianos and synthesizers could comfortably coexist. And speaking of pianos, Imagination's "Burning Up" energizes with a florid piano run that would make a permanent impression on Chicago house -- thanks in large part to Warehouse DJ Frankie Knuckles. Other highlights include Beggar & Co.'s "Somebody Help Me," Freeez's "Southern Freeez" (dig the triple e shout to Kleeer), and Light of the World's "London Town." One peculiarity is that each song carries a similar thickness in sound, and it's as if they've all been cast in a light gauze; this is more an observation than a criticism. As usual for Soul Jazz, the accompanying liners are graphics-filled and text-dense.

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