Berlin, 1996. I was working in a Mexican restaurant in Kreuzberg until 1 AM. Closed the place and went to another bar to see friends. On some weekends, I started to DJ afterwards in various venues and often came home late mornings or around noon. Sleep was not an option, but Down To The Bone was. The UK band, founded by Stuart Wade, had just released their debut album “From Manhattan To Staten” and their hipnotic jazz/funk grooves with elongated piano solos on various cuts like “Brooklyn Heights” or “Staten Island Groove” was calming and relaxing.
It’s interesting that 23 years later, this music is still relevant, since a lot of the stuff that came out in the late 90s was either instantly forgettable or simply didn’t stand the test of time. The great guys at Dome Records have now come up with a reissue of the first three CDs from the group, recorded in 1996, 1998, and 2001 which have been unavailable for some years and no, you won’t find them on Spotify either (release date is March 22nd). All three albums were tremendously successful in the US and so, Stuart Wade has come up with four bonus tracks for this three-CD Classic Album Series and recorded the two tracks mentioned earlier live in the studio with the UK band. Focussing more on the funk and stepping down a bit in tempo, “Staten Island Groove” in its 2019 version has a great chillout vibe and some neat horn and vibes spread in. I like the handclaps on the new “Brooklyn Heights” version which still conjures up those Shakatak-style piano glides and cool trombone and trumpet solos and comes up with some “drier” drum sounds in the mix.
By 1998, I was no longer working at the restaurant, started my career in radio and was still DJing throughout town. It was the year Down To The Bone released their second album “The Urban Grooves” which started out with the instantly grappling “Long Way From Brooklyn”. There were more electric keyboards now subtly stating their sound, some of the phat bass lines were coming straight from some mid-to late 70s Blue Note or Impulse jazz cuts, like on “To The Bone”. But it was one track that I remember putting on near the end of my DJ sets, sitting at the bar with some patrons, drinking Charlottchen (a shot of vodka with apple juice), inhaling the early morning air, a combination of sweet and savory and sweaty smells: “Joy Is A Good Groove”. This album still is full of great grooves like “A Little Touch Of Soul”, “Urban Jazz” and “Vinyl Junkie” which features the amazing Reuben Wilson. As a bonus, there is a funky version of Willie “Beaver” Hale‘s “Concrete Jungle”, coming right out of the mid 70s CTI box or so it seems.
In 2001, when the third album “Spread The Word” came out, I somehow lost track of the group (interest reappeared when they released the 2007 Blue Note album “Supercharged” which featured Roy Ayers and Hil St. Soul, and the 2011 Dome album “The Main Ingedients” with a super soulful Imaani), so it is refreshing to hear that the group had stayed true to themselves as a unique, self-contained jazz/funk outfit, writing their own songs and staying away from recording too many covers, or covers at all. Philly sound influences are all over the fancy “Mighty Mighty Fine”. But the bonus track is an exception: Beyoncé‘s “Déjà Vu” (not the Dionne classic) sports a funky guitar, and fostering the idea that a cover version or two is probably not that bad. A pretty diverting affair this is.