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James Mason – Nightgruv review

James Mason has never been the most celebrated of electro and boogie musicians. Possibly best known as part of Prelude-signed electro/hip-hop/synth-disco crew Wuf Ticket (makers of the brilliantly silly “Ya Mama”), Mason released just one solo album, 1977’s disco era Rhythm of Life, before finding greater acclaim with his synthesizer/rap crew. Yet two of his productions, previously unreleased at the time of their creation, have recently gone on to become “proto-house” classics.

According to Mason’s sleeve notes on the belated 1996 release of “Nightgruv” and “I Want Your Love”, he recorded them both in 1984 in a bid to secure a contract to make a new album. They were turned down and sat gathering dust for 12 years before finding a home on Mighty Fine Records (and later reissue specialists Soul Brother Records). Since then, both – and in particular, the better-known “I Want Your Love” – have earned a reputation amongst boogie, garage and disco-heads as two pioneering works. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that Rush Hour have decided to give them another re-release.

It’s perhaps “Nightgruv” that is the most startling of the two tracks. Based around the sort of heavy 808-kick that would later form the backbone of Chicago’s house movement, it slowly builds via waves of ear-tingling keyboard melodies and a bassline that comes straight out of the Mr Fingers/Nu Groove handbook. Except, of course, it was made years before both rose to prominence. Looking back, it’s sad to think that such a far-sighted piece of music – one that basically offered a blueprint for deep house – was turned down. Mason also claims that it was merely a demo and he always meant to re-record it. If anything, that makes the two versions included here – one of which is a previously unreleased extended edit – even more astonishing.

“I Want Your Love” is similarly impressive, but for a host of different reasons. An 11-minute epic that slowly builds towards a near-orgasmic crescendo, it offers a touchy-feely, piano-laden take on the boogie slow jam that still sounds years ahead of its time. Grandiose vocals, pianos and cosmic synth lines ride a killer slow groove comprised of shuffling live/drum machine beats (an imaginative combination) and two basslines; a subtle, walking electric bass figure and a squidgy, proto-acid synth line. Put it all together, and you have something that’s nothing less than sublime. By the time the urgent guitars come in and the track hurries itself towards its thrilling conclusion, you’ll be lost in its heady charms. It’s unlikely that Mason’s other musical endeavours will be remembered in 20 years time, but these two tracks most certainly will.

Matt Anniss