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The Connection, Vol. 1

Various Artists

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Album Review

Rich Medina and Bobbito "Kool Bob Love" Garcia — among many other distinctions — are veteran DJs who've been wooing groove-lovers and setting dancefloors ablaze for years; at home (in Philly and N.Y.C., respectively) and worldwide; individually and, since 1997, together, at their long-running "Happy Feet" parties. True to its title, their first joint release finds the pair delving deep into the well of contemporary, groove-based music from around the globe, often cross-pollinated with funk, soul, jazz, house, hip-hop, and more, but always firmly rooted in African and Latin rhythmic traditions. The set is presented as a straight, unmixed compilation rather than a blended DJ affair, with each compiler responsible for one generous 12-cut disc (many of the inclusions stretch out well past the five-minute mark), allowing each of them ample space to flesh out a distinct genre-based approach. Medina's Afro-flavored disc kicks things off with a sturdy Fela-styled groove from the Dutch group AIFF before settling into a relatively smooth and mellow mode for much of its length, focusing on cuts that project an affably relaxed vibe despite plenty of percussive complexity. Things definitely heat up toward the end of the disc, though, with a vintage nugget from Nigeria's Sir Victor Uwaifo slotted next to more recent but retro-inspired horn-heavy funk from the Daktaris and Azuka of Afrika, and a pair of lengthy tracks offering surprisingly different takes on the intersection of Afro-beat and house music. The NuYorican Bobbito's Latin-based disc is decidedly the more varied and modern-feeling of the two, with a wealth of hip-hop and electronica-inflected selections ranging from Rob Swift's cut-up turntablism to the poppy, salsa-tinged R&B of London's Grupo X (on the aptly-named "Sunshine"), the jazzy lounge-house of Big Bang and Louie Vega, and Reel People's funky, syncopated electro-soul. There's also some relatively straight-up funk/soul by the dependable Quantic, and revelatory interpolations of familiar tunes by Michael Jackson (by the Parisian salsa-funk outfit Setenta) and James Brown (Saravah Soul's excellent "Supersossego," which morphs unpredictably from a faithful instrumental cover of "Super Bad" into a full-on samba blow-out.) As with the first disc, the focus here is on currently active artists, with several cuts as recent as 2008 (though they may not all sound like it), but Garcia does dig back into the vaults for a slice of circa 1974 funk-rock from Mexico's Tequila and a beguiling, dusty-sounding vocal turn from Elenita Ruiz con Conjunto that closes the set, fittingly enough, in an entirely unexpected fashion. All told, it's a treasure trove of consistently fine and highly obscure material that should delight crate-digging collectors and casual listeners alike. Perhaps the best part of all: this is only Volume One. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

The Connection, Vol. 1
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