Various Artists

Classic Jazz-Funk, Vol. 1 [Mastercuts]

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The Mastercuts label's great Classic Jazz-Funk series kicked off in 1991, and like the remainder of volumes released in its wake throughout the '90s, the first volume more or less concentrates on the '70s end of jazz-funk, as opposed to the form's beginnings during the '60s. Jazz artists were incorporating more potent and often easily danceable backbeats and were also allowing for the R&B of the time to infiltrate their sound, causing purists to shriek in horror at the break from tradition and -- just as importantly -- the crossover appeal. Though this series was aimed at the rare groove crowd in the U.K. that was at full boil during the '90s, many of these cuts have always been valued in the underground clubs of the U.S. -- from David Mancuso's earliest New York Loft parties in the '70s and on through the gatherings that have featured roots-conscious house DJs from Chicago, Detroit, New York, and New Jersey. Not only that, but rap DJs have constantly visited the jazz-funk well for prime sample material. Featured on Classic Jazz-Funk, Vol. 1 are Donald Byrd's "Change" (perhaps the classic jazz-funk song), Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle" (a cautionary, gloriously flute-inflected jam with a thick bottom), Johnny Hammond's "Los Conquistadores Chocolates" (a Latin-tinged delight featuring scratchy guitars, crazy key work, gauzy strings, and just a little flute), and Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes' "Expansions" (a brilliant, typically soaring keyboard number with endlessly rolling percussion and -- of course -- some sprightly flute). Other selections from Harvey Mason, Dizzy Gillespie, Ronnie Laws, and Spyro Gyra round out the disc. As with the other volumes in the series, it's a valuable history lesson and an uplifting listen that packs a mighty wallop.

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