For its Choice series, the Azuli label asked well-known DJs to put together a two disc set of tracks that are their personal favorites. François K is a great choice for a series like this because he had one of the longest and most influential careers in music of any of the legendary DJs from the New York underground dance scene of the 1970’s and ’80s that gave birth to disco, was the foundation on which house was built, and provided the original models for the European mega-dance clubs of today.
His long career in the music industry notwithstanding, François K has chosen a collection of tracks drawn almost exclusively from the 1970s and ’80s. There’s disco such as Shalimar’s “Right in the Socket” and Donald Byrd’s classic “Love Has Come Around”, soul crooners like Teddy Pendergast (“Only You”) and Colonel Abrams (“I’m Not Gonna Let You (Get the Best of Me)”), tribal rhythms from No Smoke (“Koro Koro”) and more. Larry Levan fans will be interested in David Joseph’s “You Can’t Hide (Your Love From Me)” which was mixed by Levan along with his remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”. The Joseph track is also available on Journey Into Paradise, The Larry Levan Story but François K’s Choice is the only place I’ve seen Levan’s remix of the Guthrie track.
One track on François K’s Choice deserves special mention. “Baby Wants to Ride” was written and produced by Frankie Knuckles and Knuckles “with” James Principle are listed as the artists. As many will know, Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan acquired the basis of their DJ skills when they were both boy toys living in New York’s notorious Continental Baths. Influenced by what Levan was doing at the Paradise Garage, Knuckles moved to Chicago and became the resident DJ and motivating force behind The Warehouse which is often cited as the source for the term “house music”. “Baby Wants to Ride” is 8+ minutes of Frankie Knuckles pretending to get laid. It is so excruciatingly bad that you wonder if François K holds a long-standing grudge against his fellow New York DJ and is using this opportunity for payback. The track is beyond dreadful.
In comparison with the Choice collection by Danny Howells, François K’s Choice comes off as a missed opportunity. Howells mixed his set which gives each of his discs a sense of coherence. François K doesn’t provide a mix but simply gives us a collection of tracks. In addition, the booklet that comes with the Howells set includes a brief entry on each track by Howells that tells you a bit about why the track is important to him. The François K booklet has an essay summarizing his career with nothing from François K himself about why he choose these tracks. The result is that François K’s Choice feels like someone else’s mix tape. Meaningful to François K perhaps, but just a random collection of tunes for everyone else.
Larry Levan’s remix of Gwen Guthrie’s “(They Long To Be) Close to You”
The idea driving Azuli’s Choice series is interesting – ask a well-known DJ to compile and mix a collection of the tracks that are their own personal all-time favorites. Danny Howell’s Choice includes two discs of music and a DVD (which I haven’t watched). The set also has a booklet with an essay about Howells and a brief commentary on each track by Howells.
Howells arranged each of the two music discs as a continuous mix. Disc 1 tends toward tracks that he used often in the early stages of his career and because of this, it hangs together pretty well as a dance mix. Disc 2 is where things start to get a little squirrelly. Howells includes tracks that have personal meaning for him outside the club interspersed with the more typical club-oriented tunes. At one point we get one of those spoken/sung, poem/song, loungey/sound effect things from Japan (“Ghosts”) followed by 3.5 mins of the drum break from the live version of Iron Butterfly’s “In a Gadda Da Vida” followed by Howell’s remix of The Temptations “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. This sounds like it ought to be a mess but Howells is so good at putting together a mix that he makes it work. The transition from Iron Butterfly to The Temptation is especially sweet. The set ends with a Carly Simon track.
As interesting as the idea behind Choice is, collections like this usually end up sounding like someone else’s mix tape – a collection of tracks that mean a lot to the person who put them together but just sound like a random collection of songs to everyone else. While the nature of the project means Choice will speak more clearly to Howells than you or I, Howells great skill as a sequencer and mixer largely avoids the somebody-else’s-mix-tape problem. As a result, we get a collection of tracks that’s mostly enjoyable, always interesting and unlike any other mix you’re likely to hear.