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Dreaming In Color

Spencer Gray

SLAPCD09 | 2009-04-15  
The nom de plume of New York producer and DJ Marc-Alan Gray, and Loveslap! Records founder Charles Spencer, Spencer Gray was conceived in 2003 setting the benchmark high with their debut release 'Pillow Talk'. DJ mag heralded the group's arrival by drawing comparisons to the legendary house music partnership Masters At Work, proclaiming the single: "the sort of record that if made by MAW would be heralded as the epitome of cool, as it easily stands head-and-shoulders above the current competition." Blues & Soul equally enthused about the single calling it "a joy" amongst other superlatives.

Six years in the making, Dreaming In Color, the group's debut, about is upon us more than making up to the wait. A nine-strong collection of real songs (as well as a trio of additional remixes) that meander through a plethora of styles and tempos taking in house grooves, broken-beats, nu-jazz flavours and even electro influences en route, with an underbelly of warmth, rich textures and soulful jazz traditions.

Dreaming In Color is a debut set of pastoral impressions and beguiling dream-inducing electronica and deconstructed house from two protagonists who create a soundscape that boarders on cinematic themes, Afro-centric rhythms, and jazz-kissed soulful house at its most appealing. Enlisting the services of skilled musicians, singers and friends - among them vocalists Heather Johnson, Terrence Downs, Sylvia Gordon and Yshara, along with bass-player Andrew Higgins, trumpeter Rich Armstrong and jazz virtuosos guitarist Jay Bowman ? Spencer Gray have created a rare balance of live musicianship and contemporary technology all too missing in today's club market.

Conceptually Dreaming In Color is an album for listening to from beginning to end; the journey getting underway with the smooth jazz-tinged 'Over Tonight', before ebbing-and-flowing into the airy vibes of 'How Do You'. Fellow stable mate, the Galaxy Group (Spencer along with studio partner Tonee Green) adding swing beats to the song's sparse arrangement allowing Terrence Downs' subtle harmonies to envelope the senses.

A beautifully constructed opus of Balearic-kissed beats, rolling dance grooves and subtle nuances, the album sounds more delicious with each successive play: instinctively groovy, occasionally laid-back yet always polished and musically modish. Full of surprises and enriched by beautifully lush and dreamy numbers like the seductive '(Dream) In Color' featuring Sylvia Gordon (fresh from adding her stamp to Moby's 'Last Night' album), and the Stevie Wonder-like 'Come On' with Downs' vintage delivery sitting atop percolating percussion-driven beats.

Highlights are many, and include the warm ambience of their 2003 debut 'Pillow Talk' - not a cover of Sylvia's '70s disco-erotica, instead an equally sublime shuffler with Heather Johnson's seductive adlibs punctuating as deeply as her heartfelt words. (Also included is the sort after chunkier house remix by Asad Rizvi). The jazz-kissed bossa nova 'Scatter Me', with chanteuse Yshara (who's worked with Loveslap! since the start of the decade and featured on singles like 'A Better Way' and 'Freed Or Bound'), sounding uncannily like Bebel Gilberto; implausibly relaxed against a back drop of rattling Basilica samba rhythms. Iamni Uzuri (who has also recorded with Sly & Robbie, 4Hero and King Britt) delivers some truly captivating vocals on the bass-driven 'Precious'.

Spencer Gray sustained success has been their vision for using the traditions of the roots of jazz, soul and a fair splattering of West Coast soulful house, to make their music more accessible. With the aid of sharp musicianship and sophisticated production flair, the result is a sound that pleases mature listeners whilst all the while maintaining contemporary aspects for both stalwarts and new fans alike. Edgy deep house grooves with the odd hint afro-beat, ooze elegance and panache, and add up to make Dreaming In Color a classic dance album.

reviewed in M8, IDJ

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