Tagged: jazz

RIP Horace Silver

great day harlem

The first Gilles Peterson show I really remember listening to is still one of my favourites.

It was 1994 and a friend at university had been sent a tape of one of Gilles’ Sunday afternoon shows for Kiss which he kindly copied for me (illegal downloads, analogue style). What blew my mind then and still sums up what I love about Peterson’s approach to music is that in the same show, and almost back to back, he played Josh Wink’s acid classic Higher State Of Consciousness and the epic Sayonara Blues by The Horace Silver Quintet.

Whilst I can’t say I still listen to the former much anymore, Sayonara Blues has gone on to be one of my favourite ever pieces of music. It led to me buying quite a few of Silver’s other albums and it’s why I was really sad to hear of his passing, though at 85 he certainly had a good innings, and an eventful one at that*.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQT2-dvUhZQ

Anyway, words can’t do justice to the man, so I’ll finish where I started, and leave you with this tribute mix that Gilles has made of Horace Silver’s amazing back catalogue.

*Including being part of that photo you can see at the top of this post, A Great Day In Harlem, taken for Esquire in 1958. An amazing story in and of itself.

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Maybe It’s Because…

I’m a Londoner, that I love London so

It’s a song my father used to sing me when I was a child (even though he was from Dundalk via Dublin, though to be fair he also used to sing Molly Malone) but it only occurred to me last night how true it is.

I was at the Sydney Opera House to see The Cinematic Orchestra do a set with the Sydney  International Orchestra with a special visual ‘backing track’ by The Light Surgeons. It was, in a word, epic. And as I sat there, on the other side of the world, listening to an amazing group of musicians play music which had tinges of jazz, Italian movie soundtracks, afro-beat, hip hop, folk and everything in between, it got me thinking about London.

Because, to me, precisely because they sound so globally eclectic, The Cinematic Orchestra sound like the sort of group who could only have come from London. I’m sure that the musicians are from all over the world, but it always strikes me that people come from all over the world to create something truly new.

New York is always lauded as the city of immigrants, whilst Australia was the destination for one of the largest migrations ever, but both of them are still, in many ways, a little segregated. And they’re also new at this game. London on the other hand has been welcoming and absorbing immigrants since the Romans arrived two thousand years ago.

I used to like to paraphrase Douglas Adam’s take on the famous Samuel Johnson quote by saying:

Someone once said that when a man is tired of London he’s tired of life; the suicide rate quadrupled overnight

And I also used to like to repeat a description of London from a black can driver that I heard in a documentary about London cabbies. He said that he quit his job when London was no longer a city but just:

7 million strangers I hate

And both of these are true. Londoners love to put themselves and their city down in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in other cities.

As I was watching fireworks to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Australian navy a couple of days ago my friend made the very insightful observation that Sydney celebrates itself like almost no other city. And that’s no bad thing. But Londoners like to mock their city because, really, underneath it all, we know it’s amazing. Most of us, I would imagine, share Stephen Fry’s view when he compared London, and the English language, to Paris, and French.

A few years ago I joked that:

I have no soul, just a map of Soho burned on my heart

I guess I meant it as a way of putting myself down. But really, I think it’s a badge of honour.

The Cinematic Orchestra’s performance last night was a perfect example of this; at time spine-tingling, at times almost over-whelming, at times incredibly funky.

If anything, my only criticism would be that they tried too hard to be sophisticated, and went a bit John Coltrane (at his noodly worst) when they are at their best when their obvious love of the grimier side of modern music, whether that be rave or hip hop comes through.

It was a privilege to witness though and I came out of it as proud as I’ve been in a while to be a Londoner. Like most people who claim that distinction, I’m not actually from the city, but it took me to its heart.

(And yes, I realise that the image at the top of this post if of a piece by a French artist, but it’s in Soho and I never claimed to be consistent)

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Meet The Superhumans

I’ve just seen the ad of the year, and it’s Channel 4′s trailer for its coverage of the Paralympics (I rather liked their cheeky billboard as well which I have at the top of this post).

The ad, produced by Channel 4′s in-house team, is simply epic set to a blistering soundtrack in the shape of Public Enemy’s Harder Thank You Think (which includes a sample from an absolutely fantastic Shirley Bassey track called Jezahel): I hadn’t heard either track before but they’re both absolute belters.

The horns that Public Enemy sample from the Bassey song would blow the doors of a Mini.

So, here’s to Channel 4, Public Enemy and all the paralympic athletes: you have to watch out for wheelchair rugby (there’s a clip of it in Meet The Superhumans) – I watched an amazing documentary about it a while ago, and can’t wait to see it again.

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BADBADNOTGOOD – Flashing Lights (Kanye Cover)

So, last Saturday saw Gilles Peterson’s first show on the wonderful 6Music, and it was great. Rambling, sprawling, diverse and, most importantly, oozing with a self-evident love of music, it covered everything from David Bowie to Paul Weller, Dr. John to Jamie xx, Quantic to Dinosaur L, and even a weird little cover of The Simpsons’ theme tune by someone called Dexter*.

There were quite a few stand-out tracks, including the aforementioned Something Better by Quantic & Alice Russell with Combo Barbaro, the prog-funk-rock of Dr John’s Getaway &  the hypnotic off-beat house of Well Wishers by Julio Bashmore. But the track that made the show for me, because it encapsulated everything I love about Gilles’ work, was the cover of Kanye West’s Flashing Lights.

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It’s hypnotic, it blends genres, it’s modern but with a firm nod to the past and BADBADNOTGOOD are a band that Gilles has supported tirelessly over the last year or so, as he does with so many great acts. And it also ticks my own personal box of being a cover version, albeit an instrumental one. It’s kind of like a Cinematic Orchestra for the noughties.

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Here’s hoping next week’s show will be as good. And the one after that. And the one after that, and the one after that, until, well, forever really.

*Gilles said he didn’t know anything more about this track but that “that’s what Google’s for” – unfortunately Google isn’t for this one.

Lights by Caleb Roenigk on flickr

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Brassroots – Good Life (Inner City Cover)

It’s been a funny old week, as the saying almost goes. Last Friday I was visiting the UK, and spent a very enjoyable hour or two sipping ice cold lager in the roof garden of a pub in Wimbledon. 3 days later I was watching the city I called home for most of the last decade burning as hundreds of rioters decided that the only thing that would kill the boredom of an August weekend was to break into JD Sports and then set fire to Croydon.

There has been so much said on the riots that broke out in London and around England, much of it rubbish, much of it total sense, more eloquently put than I could ever hope to, that there seems little point me adding to it. After all, when a man who is meant to be helping British business has to come back from a holiday in Tuscany because mobs of disaffected youths are doing the sort of things that he used to do in the Bullingdon Club (but with added HD TVs), one can do little more than dig up and recycle Tom Lehrer’s quote about satire being obsolete (though at least no-one has given Cameron a Nobel Prize).

That said, there are some golden linings behind all of these clouds of smoke. There’s the wonderfully uplifting stories of how people, connected by the web, are giving something back to communities and individuals, including the story of the music fans who have mobilised to try to help the independent record labels who face ruin after three idiots set fire to Sony’s distribution warehouse. LabelLove is hoping to raise funds to allow labels that have had their entire physical stock destroyed to stay afloat. But whilst I won’t be able to make the gig they’re organising, I decided to do my bit by buying something from one of the labels affected; in my case, Brownswood, a label very close to my heart.

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One of the things I bought was Worldwide Family, a fantastic compilation which includes the amazing cover version that this post is, in theory, about. Whilst it may seem strange to write about a song entitled Good Life after a week like the week we’ve had, it’s actually beautifully apt.

  • It’ s a cover of a song by a band called Inner City.
  • It’s the sound of what’s best about modern urban life – real music fans reinterpreting a modern classic with traditional instruments
  • It’s a cover, and good cover versions always cheer me up
  • Is that not enough?

Seriously though, this was one of the weirdest weeks I can remember, and I wasn’t even in London, though I’m guessing that the new tenant in my flat could probably see the smoke from Croydon. But despite the fact that there was so much mindless (and I’m sorry, but it was mindless) violence and destruction, the sound of Brassroots covering Inner City’s Good Life, and the fact that buying it may have brought some respite to a record label built on love and devotion, makes me think that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it might not be an oncoming train.

And in case the Brassroots cover of Good Life is a bit too far from the original for you, how about I leave you with another amazing cover of the same track, this one by Kaori and a little bit closer to the original, but still wonderfully different, just like the people that make London the great city it (still) is.

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Image courtesy of (the excellent) Riot Cleanup

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St. Germain – Easy To Remember

I’ve spent this weekend trying to get up to date with what’s new in music. And, for the most part, that’s involved trying to download everything that’s yet been created by Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, or OFWGKTA as they’re apparently known to their fans.

This was brought on by an article in The Guardian about the collective’s ring leader, Tyler, The Creative. According to the article, written by Paul Lester, who, in my eyes, is old enough to know better, Tyler’s (free to download) début, Bastard:

is one of the best rap albums ever made, free or otherwise.

It’s not. It’s horrible.

Yes, the beats are sparse and breath-taking, and the melodies, all Wu Tang style jarring piano lines, are infectious, but it’s just so, so, so, bloody depressing. And offensive. To quote the man himself:

Somebody called me a homophobe. I’m not homophobic. I just say ‘faggot’ and use ‘gay’ as an adjective to describe stupid shit.

Yeah, because that’s OK. As one of the commenters on the Guardian article says:

(Begin Sarcasm)

I think this whole uproar over him using the terms ‘gay’ and ‘Fag**t’ is ridiculous…

To paraphrase the man himself:

“Somebody called me a homohobe. I’m not homophobic. I just say ‘faggot’ and use ‘gay’ as an adjective to describe stupid shit.”

I’m just the same, except I ‘just say‘ nigg**r and use ‘black’ as ‘an adjective to describe stupid shit‘ !

For example, this whole row is totally black…really, it’s that stupid…totally black..

But to my mind there are a lot of nigg**s out there who just don’t get this shit and act all black about it…but hey, those ni**ers can go suck a d*ck, right? They’re so black…
(End Sarcasm)

Quite.

Anyway. Having listened to the (amazing & uplifting) new Beasties album for about the 4th time since I bought it (yesterday), I was trying to be cool, young & interesting by listening to Bastard. For the 2nd time.

But I just couldn’t do it. It’s just too damned horrible. And misanthropic.

So, I swapped to a random Genius playlist, and the first track that came up was Easy To Remember by St. Germain. Thank the bloody Lord.

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In contrast to Tyler’s never-ending nihilism, Easy To Remember is just a beautiful piece of music.

For those who’ve never heard it, it’s a perfect slice of 90s jazz-house. There’s a beautifully slip-shod jazz drum-beat. A haunting sax melody. An off-kilter piano hook. And, laid over it, is the stunningly wonderful oration that Ossie Davis gave at the funeral of Malcolm X.

Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did, you would know him. And if you knew him, you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood!

So. Maybe I’m getting old. Or I’m just not cool enough. But, do you know what? I really couldn’t give a shit.

I’ll take the uplifting optimism and joy of St. Germain’s Easy To Remember over Tyler, The Creator’s give offence by numbers any day of the week. And, as if to prove my faith in rose-tinted spectacles, as I write this, BBC4, a station for the 35+ demographic if ever there was one, is showing a programme about the 20th anniversary of the making of Screamadelica, which, of course, nearly included this joyous ode to life.

Peace.

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St. Germain by TheDeliciousLife on flickr

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Eric B. & Rakim – Juice (Know The Ledge)

Right, I’ll be brief, so listen closely.

This is amazing.

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The film it’s from is one of the best thing Tupac ever did (overrated doesn’t even begin to describe hip hop’s Kurt Cobain).

The mix I first heard this on, Live At The Social by The Chemical Brothers is a perfect snap-shot of the mid-90s scene, and should be reissued immediately.

The incredible bass-line is a sample from Rise, Sally Rise by Nat Adderly.

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Enjoy.

Juice by Erik Forsberg on flickr

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#shfl11: Break Reform – Fractures (U-Neek Dub)

Around 11 years ago I returned from a great year in Australia, though when I got back to the UK I was very happy to be able to find great music without having to wait for a Gilles Peterson tape to be sent by a kind friend. And, so, one of my first buys after returning was the 1st Worldwide Mix by the aforementioned Mr Peterson. Amongst many stand-out tracks, Break Reform’s Perfect Season was, and is, a wonderful slice of modern British jazz; cool, subtle and utterly addictive, it’s, well, perfect.

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Unfortunately Fractures, the title track of the Break Reform’s debut album, is anything but. With a plodding beat, a discordant piano line that sounds like a Portishead off-cut and Nanar Vorperian ‘s beautiful vocals smothered in the mix, it’s only lifted by a Koop-style vibes harmony. All in all it sounds like a bit of very average mid-90s trip-hop.

Thankfully, the track that popped up when I hit shuffle this morning wasn’t Fractures, but the version featured on the remix album New Perspectives, the U-Neek Dub. It’s not often that I’d say remixing a track in a dub-style improves it, let alone makes it more cheerful, but that’s what this version does. The whole song is made more listenable by the dub-lite make-over; it’s like the ska-fairy sprinkled some moon-dust on the frog and made a prince.

Unfortunately I can’t seem to find anywhere to link to the U-Neek Dub remix, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it’s likely to bring a smile to these long winter nights. But thanks to the magic of Amazon, you can at least sample the eternal perfection of Perfect Season right now.

#shfl11 is a self-set challenge to write a post every day in 2011 about whatever song pops up 1st on shuffle on my iPod.

Stones by icelight on flickr

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Pete Kuzma – High & Dry feat. Bilal (Radiohead Cover)

Many moons ago, when I’d not been blogging all that long, I wrote about a Radiohead cover I’d heard on Gilles Peterson’s show. It was a cover version of Just by some hip young New Yorker by the name of Mark Ronson; I thought it was pretty good and predicted big things for the lad – just goes to show how little I know.

Because of the Ronson cover of Just I bought the album it was taken from – Exit Music, a whole collection of Radiohead tributes by a variety of artists, mostly from the left of centre side of 21st Century soul and, by & large, I was disappointed: they tended to be rather self-indulgent & flabby. However, recently, due to the, well, genius of iTunes’ Genius recommendation system, I’ve started listening to one of the tracks from the album – High & Dry by Pete Kuzma, featuring Bilal on vocals.

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I know next to nothing about Pete Kuzma, other than that he used to work with Jazzy Jeff (good enough for me), or Bilal, apart from the fact that he’s worked with Common and was interviewed by Gilles recently (again, that’s good enough for me). Their version of High & Dry is, however, IMHO, stunningly good.

It starts with a blissed out R&B jam, with Bilal providing some stunning vocals, drops into a full on jazz breakdown, before coming back with some more space-age soul. It is, I think, and I realise that many may see this as sacrilige, better than Radiohead’s original. There, I’ve said it. And now I’m going to listen to it again.

High & Dry by Fouse Photography on flickr

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Best Songs Of The Noughties

So, when Absolute Radio announced their quest to find the best songs of the decade, I said that I found it hard to pick any. Well, I’ve changed my mind, thanks to some inter-office discussions (ending in this playlist) and listening to a lot of stuff from the last ten years. Like this.

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6rk52

And so, without further ado, here are my Best Songs Of The Decade – I should add that these are simply my favourite songs – I don’t claim that they’ve necessarily defined the Zeitgeist or anything like that, I just really like them. Oh, and they’re not in any particular order.

  1. Amy Winehouse – Rehab: Not my favourite song off of Back To Black, but this song, and the singer, have certainly defined the last few years. And, along with Lily Allen’s début album, is the reason that Mark Ronson has the career he does now. And on that note…
  2. Lily Allen – LDN: Maybe it’s because I moved there in 2000, and find myself moving back there in 2009, but London has (again) loomed over this decade, just as it did in the 60s & 90s. And Lily Allen blended genres just as London mixes cultures, and came up with an absolute belter, with a little help from that man Ronson.
  3. Mark Ronson – Just: Valerie is the one that really got him the fame (and royalties) but his cover of Radiohead’s 90s indie classic, for an album of Radiohead covers, is simply wonderful. The ‘indie tune with brass’ thing still seemed fresh then, and the video was rather wicked too.
  4. The Strokes – Someday: Making rock cool again, The Strokes channelled The Stooges & The Velvet Underground whilst looking like they’d been spawned by specially reared supermodels (most of them probably had): they’ve not lived up to expectations since then, but by clearing the path for the likes of Kings of Leon, they’ve earned their spot here.
  5. Kings Of Leon – Use Somebody: It may not be cool anymore in these days of firework bands, who explode onto the scene and then disappear from sight (see above), but the Kings Of Leon spent the decade tirelessly touring the globe, building a devoted European following, whilst slowly improving their music. It led to them owning the last couple of years with Sex On Fire and this, Sex’s more pared down, moody brother.
  6. Radiohead – Weird Fishes: They spent the early part of the decade experimenting with electronica, but then decided to shake up the recording industry by giving away In Rainbows, which also happened to be their best album in years. And this was the best song from a very strong set.
  7. Arctic Monkeys – I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor: To show how quickly times have moved on since this stormed to the top of the charts, but just think about the fact that the Arctics were lauded for their use of MySpace (something the band always denied). Whatever the case, they were like a British Strokes, making rock cool again. Except that, if anything, their second album was even better that their  début.
  8. Sebastien Tellier – La Ritournelle: This track can only be described as a French Unfinished Sympathy, with the (several minute long) piano intro alone being worthy of inclusion on this list. The word epic is one that is over-used in music reviews, but is just about the only word that truly does justice to this track.
  9. LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends: As if being the mentor for the early 90s New York punk-funk scene, James Murphy also found the time to create amazing music as LCD Soundsystem. He’ll probably be best remembered for Daft Punk Is Playing At My House but for cataloguing the terror of ageing for music loving hipsters, All My Friends has no peer. And it reminds me of Marquee Moon by Television.
  10. Amerie – 1 Thing: Beyoncé may have had her boyfriend rapping on Crazy In Love, causing many people to laud it as the greatest R&B record of the decade but, for me at least, this takes that title. Like Crazy In Love it’s a product of Rich Harrison. With that awesome Meters sample it’s still a song that could be used to test whether people are medically dead, because if this doesn’t make you want to dance, there’s something seriously wrong with you.
  11. Coldplay – Everything’s Not Lost: Though they were famously derided as making ‘bedwetters’ music‘ (no Alan, they just made music for people not overwhelmed by admiration for one trick pony Beatles wannabes) and have followed an Oasis like trajectory where quality of output is directly inverse to their popularity, there’s no doubt that Coldplay’s debut Parachutes was bloody good or that this, it’s epic closing track, is pretty hard to beat. They’d never have had a career without Travis though.
  12. Travis – Driftwood: It may seem hard to believe now, but in the early years of this decade Travis were poised for greatness. Their album, The Man Who, had swept the UK and they were poised to do the same to the rest of the world. Then their drummer broke his back and the career had to be put on hold. In the meantime Coldplay took their formula of gentle indie music and sold it to the world. Driftwood is a nice reminder of exactly why Travis were the men who nearly did.
  13. Common – Go!: Kanye West is probably one of the biggest musical phenomenons to come out of the last ten years, but much of his best work has been his productions for other people. This, a track from Common’s amazing Be, is a brilliantly up-tempo paean to what can only be described as an interesting love-life. But, being Common, it lacks any of the lazy misogyny that blights so much other hip hop.
  14. Aqualung – Strange & Beautiful: Plucked from obscurity thanks to this beautifully understated track being used as the soundtrack to a lovely VW ad, Aqualung is viewed in the UK as a 1-hit wonder. Apparently he’s done pretty well in the US, thanks to his tracks being used in popular dramas, but this is the one that whisks me back to a time when I couldn’t imagine being 30, let alone approaching my mid-30s. Ho hum.
  15. Paul Weller – Have You Made Up Your Mind: 22 Dreams is Weller’s best album for years (in fact it’s just one of the best albums for years) and this is one of the many amazing tracks on it. For a man who will never see his forties again he sounds fresher & more full of life than artists half his age. A national treasure, this goes to show why he’s one of the best British artists of the last few decades.
  16. Gorillaz – Feels Good Inc: Talking of the best British artists of the last 30 years, Damon Albarn’s reinvention of himself since 2000 has been amazing. His ability to invent the ultimate rock-band and then use this vehicle to produce cutting edge 21st Century pop with collaborators such as De La Soul has even seen his nemesis Noel Gallagher expressing admiration. The début was made with uber-producer of the time, Dan The Automator but the the follow-up, including this track,  was a collaboration with the even more ubiquitous Danger Mouse.
  17. Gnarls Barkley – Crazy: Fresh from conquering the world with Gorillaz, Danger Mouse created another ‘virtual band’ (of a sort) when he teamed up with Cee-Lo (the man who, by writing Don’t Cha, gave us The Pussycat Dolls – I’m not sure if he should be shot or sainted). This was their biggest hit and, despite being a look at mental illness set to a thundering beat, is an absolute belter.
  18. Zero 7 – Destiny: Chill-out, and the dreadful coffee-table CDs it gave us, has thankfully fallen out of fashion. But, as with most fads, it produced some amazing music. Zero 7′s début Simple Things was one such record; for me it was the soundtrack to countless summer holidays and never fails to make me think of Mediterranean sunsets and chilled white wine, which is no bad thing at all.
  19. Jamie Cullum – Frontin’: Another fad that swept the decade was jazz-lite, as exemplified by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Madeleine Peyroux & Jamie Cullum. It was an unfair tag as they all had their moments and for Cullum his greatest moment was this inspired cover of Pharrell’s stripped down hip-hop classic.
  20. N*E*R*D – Provider: As with Kanye, Pharrell Williams nearly always saved his best work for other people. Having said that, Provider is a truly fantastic track: raw 21st Century soul which lacks much of the bombast that spoils so much of N*E*R*D’s other work. A true classic and one which Zero 7 did a rather lovely remix of.
  21. Snoop Dogg – Beautiful: If you needed proof that Pharrell was always very generous with his genius (for a hefty fee, of course) then I give you Beautiful. It more or less reignited Snoop’s career as well as featuring a fantastic Brazilian drumming break-down. Oh, and it also demonstrates Pharrell’s other stroke of genius – insisting he feature in the video for just about every track he produces, thereby getting paid by others to build his profile ready to launch his solo career & clothing range (which he wore in most videos) – pity he didn’t keep some of the best tracks for himself.
  22. The Streets – Weak Become Heroes: Mike Skinner managed to encapsulate UK garage just as he was outgrowing it (much like Dizzee & grime). There are a bunch of his tracks that could figure on any Best Of The Noughties list, but this one, with its craving for the more innocent early days of the UK house scene is one that will always be close to my heart, and not just because it was the focus of one of my first ever posts.
  23. Ben Westbeech – So Good Today: One of the best aspects of the noughties as far as I’ve been concerned has been the return of Gilles Peterson to the position of record label owner. This was the 1st single released on Brownswood and remains one of its best releases to date. I really don’t think I could ever get bored of its fantastic simplicity, though I’m still disappointed that his album, though great, didn’t live up to So Good Today’s promise. Not something that can be said of all the artists on Brownswood Recordings though…
  24. José James – The Dreamer: Another début single from Brownswood, this featured on the first Brownswood Bubblers compilation and is, like much of James’ work, simply stunning. Classic jazz delivered with a hip-hop attitude the single and the album of the same name it came from should be must-haves for any discerning music lover. Here’s hoping the next ten years sees him develop a career of sustained quality.

As I write this I keep thinking of more I could add but I’ve decided that, like all good things, this post needs to come to an end. I think I’ve shown what a good few years it’s been for music, even if nothing has really had the over-whelming cultural significance of house, punk, hip-hop or even the New Romantics. But maybe that’s just a sign of these splintered, multi-media times that we’ve lived through. Whatever the case, I’d love to hear which tracks you think I’ve missed – maybe this one?

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Over to you, and I’ll see you in 2010 (if not before) when we can start working out what the hell we’re going to call the next decade.

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