The Jersey sound is unmistakeable, unmissable and unforgettable. As house music and techno become increasingly more mythologized around the holy trinity cities of Chicago, Detroit and Berlin, many forget the importance of the music that came out of New York and New Jersey. The style of uptempo dance music that originated in this city and state is more accurately termed ‘garage’ or ‘US garage’ in order to differentiate it from the UK garage styles that were, of course, directly influenced by this American, musical innovation.
DJs such as Larry Levan – who manned the decks at the club that gave the genre its name, The Paradise Garage — is a huge influence on the style. Tony Humphries’ sets at the club, Zanzibar in Newark, New Jersey, and production work on records in the era preceding house music, are a major element and influence on garage. Other producers and DJs, such as Tee Scott and Bruce Forest, are also very important in the music’s development. And we cannot forget the legacy of Abigail Adams and her Movin’ Records store and the fantastic label that operated from within its walls on Central Avenue, East Orange, New Jersey.
Humphries still plays and I’ve had the pleasure and benefit of hearing him on three or four occasions. Twice in San Francisco, at Townsend and at Mighty. I also heard him in Miami in ’98 where the entire New Jersey garage community seemed to be in attendance. My ex-girlfriend spent a good portion of the night talking to a soft-spoken and extremely humble giant of a man who introduced himself only as Michael. We found out at the end of the night when one of his friends approached him that his last name was Watford. Danny Rampling was on the dance floor, hands aloft, as Humphries thoroughly worked “Deputy Of Love” by Don Armando’s Second Avenue Rhumba Band. A sense of redemption pervaded the room.
At these parties Humphries not only played house and garage, he effectively defined them by featuring both new and classic tracks and by creating the dynamic that is inherent and essential to both styles. This dynamic is crafted from smoothly and harmonically moving from the soulful to the abstract, creating feelings of tension and release from the darkness and light, lost and found, unloved and loved, sinning and saved narratives that run through this beautiful, American music form. Humphries was once asked if he played house music and he replied by saying that he, in fact, played uptempo r ‘n’ b. When you hear “The Sound” by Reese and Santonio, a ripping edit of “Bostich” by Yello and “Razzmatazz” by Quincy Jones and Patti Austin in the same set, along with some upfront tracks, his comment makes complete sense.
Blaze were very active proponents of the garage sound from its inception and these fine releases from 1996 indicated that they were keeping this wonderful tradition alive. Much love and respect to Tee Alford for sending me some fantastic Blaze productions in the mail, so that I could scribble about them in XLR8R and gush about them in Amoeba to whomever would listen to me.
Blaze presents Sheila Slappy
Love Comes Around
Colour Funky EP
The duo of Josh Milan and Kevin Hedge have defined the bass-heavy and soul-stirring sound of New Jersey garage since the mid-eighties when they first hit the limelight with classics like “Can’t Win For Losing” and “Blazin’.” “Love Comes Around” is an infectious blend of swirling Hammond organ, driving bass, hypnotic strings and Ms. Slappy’s soulfully intense paean to love lost and found. At three in the morning on a heaving dancefloor it could be a mantra to the machinations of karma and this is why I love the cosmic double entendres that his style of music takes on.
The Colour Funky EP is a more experimental, but equally soulful affair by Blaze, containing a tribal track, a straight up vocal track, a driving builder and a smooth instrumental. It is a logical follow up to the excellent “Blaze Tracks” EP that appeared on Funky People last year and a strong indication that sound experimentation is not the sole territory of high brow Europeans with little or no rhythm and a preponderance for annoying, sampled ethnic, chants. A very essential slice of vinyl. Chris Orr