The Pearl

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The Naked Music blueprint for house and disco -- a return to sounds lush and heavily evocative, with plenty of textured R&B and jazz touches, but an attention to detail rivalling that of the most introspective techno producers -- has been copied far and wide. The sheer generic quality of most of it only serves to distinguish the real thing, especially when it's as magical and refreshing as Aquanote's The Pearl. Surely one of the best production jobs of the year, Gabriel René's great achievement is to shatter all the cliches of jazz-house (waves of echoey, minor-chord synth, subpar beats, lame vocal features, and track after track of Roy Ayers-rehash songwriting) with his superior skills: at arranging, engineering, mixing, basically everything except the vocals (he recruited three or four live musicians for each track, but took care of everything else himself). "One Wish" is a Prelude throwback through and through, from the precise jazz-guitar solos to the omnipresent female chorus. "Heartbreaker" is a nice contemporary R&B track, just a little too distinctive to have much hope on commercial radio unless it was attached to a star vocalist -- in which case it'd easily blow up. "Never Let It Go" is a deep dub feature for vocalist Naomi Nsombi. The rest are some of the most exquisite jazzy house productions heard anywhere.

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