Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Various - The Best Of Perception And Today Records

Stunning re-issue collection of soul, funk and jazz gems from oft-overlooked Manhattan label.

Perception Records was set up in the late '60s by its president Terry Phillips and Boo Frazier. Initially more focused on jazz, the pair also branched out into the potentially more lucrative soul and funk markets with the launch of Today Records. A business venture that ran until both label's demise in 1974. The fact that their time in the music industry turned out to be short lived in no way diminishes the quality of the music they released. Thanks to London based reissue label, BBE Records, who have lovingly compiled a best of both labels, we can all now savour these delights without having to take out mortgages for original vinyl copies.

Though the late '60s was a fertile period for soul and jazz, starting a label must have been a daunting possibility given the towering giants of Motown, Stax, Blue Note, Impulse and Verve, not to mention the nascent Philly sound, quietly awaiting its moment 100 miles away in Philadelphia. Manhattan was of course a completely different place to what it is now, a fact reflected in the music contained on this superb collection. This is music made before mayor Giuliani's clampdown on crime, before disco, before hip-hop's ascent and domination, and before a New York-led, global obsession with bling and status. Its a collection that evokes that era well and provides an insight as to what great taste Phillips and Frazier had, along with showcasing a fantastically varied wealth of talent. 

Click over the jump for more on The Best Of Perception And Today Records.
The label's earliest releases documented the tail end of classic American jazz, represented here by the inclusion of two Dizzy Gillespie tracks – Matrix and Alligator, along with saxophonist James Moody's Heritage Hum. Fans of such beautifully executed jazz instrumentals may want to investigate the full length albums that both artists recorded for Perception. The main thrust of this collection though centres around soul and funk, in themselves showcased here in a broad range of styles. There's the Jackson-esque bubblegum soul of The Eight Minutes, a similarly sibling styled vocal group that released a couple of singles for the label. '70's Blaxploitation movie soundtrack gets represented by the string-laden Brother On The Run by Adam Wade and Johnny Pate. There are echoes of the more established Motown and Stax sounds courtesy of ex-Motown signing J.J. Barnes. His slow building and brooding You Owe It To Yourself being a personal highlight here. Special mention also goes to Debbie Taylor with her gloriously unhinged singing on Too Sad To Tell, a vocal funk workout up there with anything by Betty Davis. Elsewhere Aretha Franklin's Rocksteady gets an organ driven instrumental makeover by Julius Brockingham. Stirring stuff.

There are also foreshadows of things to come; the jazz rock of Joe Thomas and Bartel providing a sonic blueprint for later labels such as Acid Jazz and their ilk; along with the early stirrings of disco best exemplified on this collection by The Fatback Band and Fatback Brother Bill Curtis. Elsewhere Black Ivory offer up the smooth Philly style falsetto and string heavy ballad You And I. As proof of this compilation's rich pickings, several of its tracks were to be later sampled by hip-hop royalty. If that wasn't enough there's also room for Afro-American poet Wanda Robinson and Tropicalia legend Astrud Gilberto. It all makes for a collection that diverse yet strong and compelling.

This compilation is to be released on 2CD, 2 x 2LP, and digital versions (with even more bonus tracks), along with a limited 7” for Record Store Day. Set aside your pocket money, this one is worth it.

Click here for the BBE Records website.