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V/A - British Hustle

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Artist: V/A

Album: British Hustle

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: Nov. 16, 2003

Just beneath the sonic and social hedonism of the 1970s disco era was a substrate of idealism; a pan-cultural musical fusion that brought people together on the dance floor to party; a musical blend of Latin and Caribbean beats, Afro-American soul stylings, and Top 40 pop glitz. In sounds that ranged from Earth, Wind and Fire’s cool and smooth message of cosmic unity to the Sun Ra Arkestra’s strange and powerful outer-space rainbow, it was evident that something transcendent, maybe even spiritual, was happening alongside the mating rituals and Saturday Night Fever energy-release going down in the dance clubs.

British Hustle documents a particularly delicious – and little known, to most Americans at least – time in the 1970s British music scene, when jazzers and soul-funkers were mixing it up, recording insanely tight and grooving tracks to feed the needs of DJ turntables and dance floor frenzies. London’s reputation as a Mecca for musicians of all cultures certainly played a role in the richness of the scene during that era; there is, in particular, a West Indian-by-way-of African lightness and suppleness to most of the grooves here; a clean and dynamic percussive interlock that spices up nicely the usual bomp-and-bump of the basic disco pulse.

The 13 cuts on British Hustle have one common goal – pure pleasure. This latest compilation from Soul Jazz Records is a stellar collection of sweet and bad-ass bass lines, chiming and stabbing Fender Rhodes pianos, sizzling, snaking synths, precisely blended horn sections; even, at times, some fine jazz blowing on top of the relentless kick drum and high-hat pulse, the chank and scratch of funk guitars.

The vocals range from the soulful falsetto harmonies heard on the title track by Hi-Tension all the way to the smoldering and seductive slow burn of singer Bonnie Wilkinson’s delivery on FBI’s hypnotic “Talking about Love”. There are also some surprising chunks of early electro, like the burbles and bleeps of Heatwave’s percolating “Put the Word Out”. There’s plenty of mating ritual and party down spirit in the lyrics, plenty of 70’s social conscience and we-can-change the world-ism, too.

In addition to the archival and historical value of British Hustle, there’s something more at work here. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this collection is the way the music says it all – the way the grooves come alive and get straight to the heart and soul of things; the way the pure joy of rhythm and dance can keep people together, moving and loving and smiling.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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