Review: Various Artists, Masterpiece Created by Francois K
Francois Kevorkian has the chops. In spades. As told in Love Saves the Day he moved from France to New York in 1975 at the age of 21 with the hope that he could further his career as a drummer. With no money he looked in the Village Voice for the most expensive apartment he could find whose owner was looking for a roommate. He reasoned that anyone who could afford an expensive crib would be willing to give him a room in exchange for taking care of the place. He ended up calling George Freeman who wouldn’t share the apartment but offered to give Kevorkian a gig as a drummer in a dance club Freeman owned called The Galaxy which was one of the hot underground dance clubs that gave birth to what became commercialized as disco. Freeman’s idea was that Kevorkian would play live drums accompanying the tracks the club’s DJ was spinning. The DJ was the now-legendary Walter Gibbons who was especially adept at drum, rhythm and tempo mixing. He also hated the idea of having to work with a live drummer so he kept throwing sharp and unexpected rhythm changes at Kevorkian so the drummer would fuck up and get fired. Kevorkian held his own and went on to a decades long career as a DJ, A&R man, remixer, producer, mixer, and recording studio and record label owner. In 2005 he was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame as both a DJ and a remixer.
When the Ministry of Sound decided to institute a Masterpiece series of collections of dance music by important and influential DJs they turned to Kevorkian for the inaugural set. The result is this three CD collection. Each disc contains over 70 minutes of uninterrupted music that Kevorkian has dedicated to different cities. Naples focuses on Electro, Manchester on Techno, and Tokyo on House.
Maybe it’s his roots as a drummer or maybe it’s his long experience in the field but Kevorkian avoids the problems that turn so many DJ compilations into exercises in tedium. First, he doesn’t fall into the trap of simply stringing a bunch of tempo-matched samples together and overlaying the whole thing with a numbing four-on-the-floor disco beat. Kevorkian hews to a steady pulse but he plays with multiple rhythms and shifts the four up and down in the mix in ways that produce excitement rather than boredom. He also avoids the problem common to DJ-produced music of letting a riff go on much too long. This may work on the dancefloor but it quickly leads to disinterest when the music is playing on CD and the listener is doing something other than dancing. Kevorkian is constantly mixing it up with electronic effects, polyrhythmic percussion, and shifting rhythm patterns. As a result Masterpiece is one of the best DJ mixes I’ve yet come across. That doesn’t mean that some of the music in the collection doesn’t fade into the background rather easily at times, it does, but more often than not Kevorkian will reclaim your attention and put some strut in your butt as you go about doing whatever it is you’re doing while the CD plays.
Kevorkian favors a more laid back style than dance music artists like Daft Punk or Justice but he has a deep understanding of rhythm, groove and pacing which makes Masterpiece a rich and rewarding set of music. If Ministry of Sound continues on with the Masterpiece series, the next artists they tap are going to have a difficult time meeting the standards Kevorkian has laid down in his Masterpiece
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