Review: Various Artists, Journey Into Paradise . . . The Larry Levan Story
“Journey Into Paradise . . . The Larry Levan Story” is a two disc collection that celebrates the music DJ Larry Levan played at the Paradise Garage, an enormous semi-underground dance club in New York that opened in 1977 and closed ten years later. The Garage has achieved legendary status because it’s the place where Larry Levan reached his peak. Levan created an environment at the Garage where dancers of any and all colors, sexes and sexual orientations were welcomed and made to feel at home. Although he was not know as a technically sophisticated mixer in terms of his ability to smoothly blend one song into the next while scrupulously maintaining beat and pitch, he was unparalleled in his ability to both sequence tracks and rework songs on-the-fly by extending breaks and moving them around in the mix in a way that lifted his dancefloor into orbit. When he was on, he had an extraordinary ability to communicate with his dancers so that a long night of dancing at the Garage felt like transcending to a place where music, DJ and dancers melded into a unified creative entity. It was a trip.
Unfortunately, it was a trip that can’t be recreated on CD. You had to be there. Rhino has done the next best thing by putting together this collection of tracks that were staples at the Garage. The 1970s was the time when record companies began producing club versions of songs on 12″ discs that often were either unavailable to the general public or very hard to find. Rhino has done their typically excellent job and has gathered the versions of the songs that Levan played in the club. Sometimes this means we get straight album tracks such as Womack and Womack’s “Baby, I’m Scared of You” (a song I like so much that it alone is worth the price of the collection for me), but more often Rhino gives us extended mixes ranging from the 1984 Niles Rogers remix of Sister Sledge’s “Lost in Music” to the extended 12″ versions of Phreek’s “Weekend”, Donald Byrd’s “Love Has Come Around”, and Five Special’s first-time-on-CD “Why Leave Us Alone”. As Levan’s reputation grew, artists and record companies began to ask him to mix their records specifically for the dancefloor and Journey into Paradise includes nine of these mixes such as Dee Dee Bridgewater’s “Bad for Me”, Teena Gardner’s “Heartbeat” and The Peech Boys’ “Don’t Make Me Wait”.
Journey into Paradise is a great collection. If you’re into the underground dance music of the ’70s and ’80s that goes way beyond the pop-disco dreck of Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees, and the Village People, this is a collection that is very much worth checking out.
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