ARTHUR BAKER Breakin' (Perfecto)
"Breakin'" is a two disc mix album devoted to the work of legendary dance music producer Arthur Baker, a man who can legitimately claim to have been in the vicinity of some of the greatest and most significant innovations in the genre, having had the vision to transform New Order from student to dancefloor fodder almost single-handedly, and been behind formative classics by Afrika Bambaataa, Rockers Revenge and Criminal Element Orchestra.
"Breakin'" is divided chronologically along "New Skool" and "Old Skool" lines. The former disc is a pleasantly homogenised 77 minute excursion through the state of modern dance - what binds these disparate collaborations (which feature famous names such as Utah Saints, Felix Da Housecat, Timo Maas and Paul Oakenfold) together is that they all sound, y'know, chunkier than your average dance track. Perfectly formulated for the dance floor though they may be, there's little in the way of quicksilver excitement generated, although there are moments of genius here. The Crazies, apparently a partnership between Baker and Felix Da Housecat, offer up "Quiet Riot", a brilliant appropriation of the reverberent, primitive sounds of early Chicago house, and AB/DC (decoding the pseudonym, Baker in cahoots with Dave Clarke) lace "The Feelin'" with terrific, rolling string stabs that could be straight out of "Saturday Night Fever".
The "Old Skool" disc offers rather more evidence as to why Baker is justly revered. I've never been overly fond of New Order's "Confusion", but here it is again and its cultural significance cannot be denied, as a quartet of Mancunians invent indie-dance years ahead of the competition. Rockers Revenge's "Walking On Sunshine", Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force's Kraftwerk-pilfering "Planet Rock" and Criminal Element Orchestra's "Put The Needle To The Record", which rips up vast quantities of Prince's "Kiss", are all classics of their type and significant milestones in the early development of dance music. Incredible Mr. Freeze's "Back To The Scene Of The Crime" is great too, one of the few tracks here to revisit the social conscience held aloft by earlier rappers such as Grandmaster Flash. I'm also pleased to welcome Will Downing's cover of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" into my collection, a brave and successful attempt to seamlessly weld soul, jazz and house music together. And to prove just how distanced Baker was from frosty, humourless dance purism, there's even a thumping remix of Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love", which makes the most of Stevie Nick's euphoric "Hands above my head" line, and isn't nearly as silly as it sounds.
So there's a lot of genuinely great and important music collated on "Breakin'". There's also a good deal of pedestrian padding that is unlikely to be regarded with as much affection ten or twenty years hence as the contents of the "Old Skool" disc. But in presenting Baker's music in this fashion, "Breakin'" at least provides you with the opportunity to find out which side you're on.