Review: Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage and Larry Levan Recorded Live at the Paradise Garage
Putting together Tuned In To Music’s two recent podcasts on the Paradise Garage involved listening to a lot of Larry Levan music. What a treat that was. Levan, by the way, was the DJ at the Garage who was revered for his DJing and remixing abilities at the time and has become legendary since his untimely death in 1992. We’ve previously reviewed Rhino’s 2-CD collection, “Journey Into Paradise . . The Larry Levan Story” . Here we have reviews of two more Levan CDs.
“Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage” is a collection of Levan’s remixes put together by Francois Kevorkian. Kevorkian was a French drummer, DJ and remixer who DJed at one time or another during the 1970s and ’80s at the Loft, The Paradise Garage, Studio 54, and Better Days along with many other clubs in Manhattan along with being the Friday night DJ at Club Zanzibar in Newark for a year. He was a central player in the underground dance world of the time and has all the chops one would need to put together a collection of Levan remixes. Don’t be put off by the garish cover which looks like something you’d find on a “Paaaaaarty Time! Disco Dance Explosion!!!” CD you’d find in the cutout bin at the Dollar Store. “Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage” is a very good collection of Levan’s remixes. It leads off with Instant Funk’s “I Got My Mind Made Up” which was one of the first remixes Levan did and which was such a huge smash in the clubs that it pretty much opened the door to the recording studio for him. It also includes Levan’s famous remixes of Loleatta Holloway’s “The Greatest Performance of My Life”, First Choice’s “Double Cross” and the almost 13 minute “Make It Last Forever” by Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown. Remastered in a 20 bit recording, the sound quality is good. The only problem with the CD is that you wish it were longer. A two CD set would have been nice. Music from this CD can be heard on Tuned In To Music Podcast 002 – The Paradise Garage (Part 2) Larry Levan and Tuned In To Music Podcast 012 – Larry Levan (Part 2)
“Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage” is a roughly 92 minute tape of a Levan mix recorded live at the Garage in 1979. The set is divided over two CDs with an awkward break mid song from CD 1 to 2. It was put out by Levan’s mother and Mel Cheren. Cheren was one of the few record company executives to tune in to the underground dance scene long before it was commercialized to death as disco in the late 1970s and he played a number of important roles in getting dance music recorded. He was also one of the primary financial backers of the Paradise Garage and as such was instrumental in getting the club off the ground. As with Kevorkian, he knows what he’s doing when it comes to Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage. People sometimes complain about collections devoted to famous DJs or dance clubs because they don’t capture what it was really like to have been there, in part because they have breaks between songs which were mixed to be a continuous stream of music in the club. “Live at the Paradise Garage” solves this problem and Levan’s extended breaks and connections between tracks are the most interesting part of the set. However, while it is of undoubted interest to hear an actual recording of Levan at work, this is the least satisfying of the three Levan collections we’ve reviewed. I think this may be because by getting as close as possible to the club experience via a recording, the tape makes it readily apparent why reproducing the club experience via a recording is impossible. What Levan and the other great DJs of the time like David Mancuso and Nicky Siano excelled at was communicating with the dancers in a two-way conversation that turned the music/dance amalgam into a creative experience equally shared by DJ and dancers. The sequence of songs, the way intros and breaks were extended or not, the EQ settings for particular songs were all manipulated on the fly by the DJ to produce the desired effect at the moment. Songs would be played again and again but they wouldn’t be played the same way each time because the mood on the dancefloor would be different from one time to the next. It was about the right here and right now and that experience can’t be recreated. You had to be there.
Of the three Levan collections, Rhino’s “Journey Into Paradise” is recommended as the broadest collection that contains a fine selection of both Levan remixes and songs frequently played at the Garage. The remix collection “Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage” is great if all you want are Levan’s remixes. “Live at the Paradise Garage” comes in a distant third.
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