Simply Good Music is a misleading title for the new collection compiled and concocted by New York City's long-time multi-function source for soulful and funky, modernist dance music, Giant Step. For one thing, while the dance-worthy rhythms on Simply Good are immediate and largely accessible, this music is by no means simple - even to the most discerning pop fan, these songs and 'choons feel complexly modern, if not overtly futuristic, albeit in an of-the-moment style already doomed to sound oh-so-early-oughts in just a few months. For another thing, Simply Good Music's 14 tracks are by no means all good: neo-soul/future-jazz has always had a propensity toward synth washes and vocal layering shaken on ice to "chilled," and too often beyond, to "watered down." This comp does little to rectify that rep.
But most of all, Simply Good Music is misleading because it's a title that lacks any sense of gob-smacking taste, any jolt of sweet and succulent satisfaction, and a good portion of these cuts are invigorating in their colorfulness and outright taste.
That's obvious from the start, Esthero's "O.G. Bitch": It's not just that the song is hilarious, positioning cool-jazz flutes against bump-and-grind Jamaican digital dancehall riddims and lush female vocals crooning, "You're just waiting for me to drown / so no one knows that you stole my whole sound / and then you're grinning when I come around / you fake-ass bitch." It's that all of "O.G. Bitch" is one or two steps from real, hardcore gangsta reggae or rap; that Esthero has managed to perfect "post-gangsta," and therefore, with one track, put an end to the 1990s.
If, as they claim in interviews, so many of America's top hip-hop producers are tiring of that music, it seems to be in good hands overseas: "grime" artists like Dizzee Rascal are becoming East London Dr. Dre's, from the N.W.A. hardness to the prod-board experimentalism, while Simply Good showcases two jazz-oriented Brit-hop artists any U.S. label should find worth snapping up. Ty's "Wait a Minute," with London future-jazz style sync-sync-syncopation and "runnin' 'fings" cockney raps, stands out. But it's Roots Manuva's "The Haunting," like a hip-hop "Ghost Town," that proves to be Simply Good Music's finest track. Dub-reggae guitar-picking, upright bass, heavily reverbed piano and washed-out horn harmonies a la King Tubby provide the rhythm -- not a drum, cymbal, or discernable beat to be found. Roots Manuva's hip-hop free-form poetics flow like urban Nyabinghi chants over the top. It's ghostly, etched from the air rather than the street: perfect.
Most of Simply Good Music is comprised of futuristic soul and jazz - brilliance, from the likes of Two Banks of Four (the Minnie Ripperton-esque "One Day") and the funky Amp Fiddler, genre-standard mediocrity (4Hero and Bugz all-stars DKD's disappointing "We Can Make It"), and some fairly poor stuff (cheesy washes like "Do What You Want" by Aya, and Sara Devine's diva "Take Me Home").
As if to prove the ephemeral nature of dance music, Danny Krivit's edit of RSL's "Wesley Music" closes out Simply Good Music with a jazzy choral dance song that sounds like an instantly dated deep-house anthem, sure to have made the crowd at New York's now-defunct Body & Soul club scream and wave their shirtless bodies. It's great, uplifting, percussive house, beautiful and compelling, but it also keeps things in perspective.