Review: Early in 2014, Highlife regulars Auntie Flo and Esa traveled to Cuba to play at the country's biggest music festival. While there, they hooked up with a string of local vocalists and musicians to lay down the first installment of Highlife's World Series. Predictably, it's something of a triumph, with both artists gleefully joining the dots between Afro-influenced drum machine rhythms, traditional Cuban instrumentation and the kind of skewed synths that are such a feature of their work. Auntie Flo's effort is a 13-minute epic featuring the rambling vocals of Eric Eleindro and some snaking trumpet action. It's Esa who steals the show, though, with a dreamy, Balearic-minded cut that sounds like a contemporary update of Hugh Masekela's mid 1980s work.
Review: It's great to hear some good old-fashioned deep house again. In recent years, the genre has been nearly strangled to death by its obsession with the smooth clicks and grooves of post-minimal Berlin. After disappearing down that alley, producers are now looking back to Chicago and New York for inspiration. This is where "I Stole Some Thunder" comes in. All four mixes offer something different. There's the snappy Chi-town swing of the original, the hissing cymbals and relentless kicks of Resurface's Detroitian rework and some bumpin' 90s New York grooves from Ooft. Even the most European of all the mixes - MG's Phonique-ish Deep Dub - still boasts classic Chicagoan percussion.
Review: Based in the UK but inspired by the sound of the African continent, Esa Williams is an idiosyncratic talent. This is highlighted by the fact that despite being two years old, Gwalaka Fortune still sounds like it came from the future. Issued on Swedish label Omena, it features the weird vocals and dreamy ambience of "8/8 (Son Op)" as well as "Big Snoek", which follows a more conventional path with its warm keys and bubbling deep house groove. However, it's also true that experimentation is never too far on an ESA record, and the doubled-up, acid-soaked rhythm of "Umatic 3000" shows that he is an innovative artist.
Review: Recently, Esa Williams has done a good job in stepping out of the shadow of regular Auntie Flo collaborator Brian D'Souza. Here he furthers his solo career via a fine EP on much-loved Dutch imprint Dekmantel. He begins with the deliciously angular and fuzzy "Blast", a joint production with Notch Beats that wraps Pendo Zawose's exotic, drifting vocals around razy sharp electronic motifs and shuffling, 108 BPM afro-house beats. Kenyan vocalist Abakisimba lends a hand on the warm and fluid East African deep house lusciousness of "Rift Valley", before Williams rounds things off via the house tempo Detroit techno positivity of "Rent-a-Disc".
Review: Highlife man and Auntie Flo collaborator Esa Williams has decided to co-credit this surprise outing on Local Talk to his little used deep house alias, Mervin Granger. While the booming, bass-heavy, tech-tinged deep house roughness of "MVK" that will get most attention, it's opener "Bontas (Live Mix)" that really floats our boat. It takes a similar approach, but has a looser swing and benefits greatly from some live guitars, keys and bass. BBE regular Bodhi Satva provides the obligatory remixes, turning "MVK" into a rubbery chunk of Afro-influenced tech-soul/deep house fusion on the superb "Ancestral Soul Remix". For a lighter, even sunnier vibe, check the delicious piano solos and breezy beats of his "Thump Remix".
Review: In the second round of surefire house goodness from a celebratory Freerange Recordings, your ears and record decks get treated to four slices of contemporary tackle from a spread of artists committed to pushing things forwards. Luv Jam kicks up the dust with a playful sensibility on the bouncy "Hamburglar" before Esa & Mervin Granger take a more fluid approach to deepest house with "Goema Heat". On the flip Freerange mainstay Manuel Tur brings some serious emotion to his piano notes without losing the funk on "Laguenesie", and Kito Jempere slides into squishy dub tones with a little help from Jerry The Cat and Ruslan Gadzhimuradov for "This Is Why We Do This".