It's been a minute since Chris Brann visited Wax 'N Facts — or any record store, for that matter. As he strolls through the aisle of this Atlanta institution, in the center of the city's bohemian Little Five Points district, he admits that he hasn't shopped for records in years.
But Brann is no 30-something homebody browsing nostalgically through dusty vinyl stacks. As the mastermind behind P'Taah and Ananda Project, he may be the most famous electronic producer in Atlanta (with all due respect to IDM auteur Richard Devine and dance-rock arriviste Le Castle Vania). Renowned for the exotic musical flavors that he uses in his compositions, from contemporary jazz and R&B to Brazilian Tropicália and jazz fusion, his decade-plus career defines an era of deep-house music.
Back in the day, Brann helped create the city's underground dance scene. He remembers throwing warehouse raves in the early '90s. “We were bringing 1,000 to 1,500 kids, underage kids, into a 4,000-square-foot warehouse on a Friday night, with me and my other partners DJing. We were serving alcohol, whippits all over the place. It was highly illegal,” he remembers. “We were hungry. We were desperate to get this music out there and have it heard.”
Nowadays, Brann performs a DJ gig only two or three times a year. He occasionally tours with Ananda Project, a collective of highly skilled musicians that includes bassist Tim Delaney, saxophonist Kebbi Williams and singer Alex Lattimore. But he got the club thing out of his system a long time ago. “It's not my thing. I want to be in the studio,” he says.
Instead, he focuses on building his musical legacy. The latest is a remix album of Ananda Project's Fire Flower (MVD Visual, 2007) called Night Blossom (King Street, 2008). In addition to Ananda Project, Brann will relaunch the Wamdue brand via a new deal with Pacha Records, and is working with vocalists Gaelle (the heavenly voice behind the classic “King of My Castle”), Jonathan Mendelsohn (for whom he produced the sweet pop number “Forgiveness”) and rapper Sky Hy.
The club scene has changed dramatically since the beginning of this decade, when “King of My Castle” topped the U.S. dance charts and Ananda Project's debut, Morning Light (King Street, 2003), drew widespread praise from music critics and underground dance fans alike. He respects the rock-influenced electro-punk jams of Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and countless others, even if their sometimes-brash, swaggering riffs are worlds removed from the densely lush musicianship that marks Brann's best work.
“I'm into a lot of this electro stuff coming out. But it's very single-dimensional. There's not a lot of dynamics from a musical perspective,” Brann says. “Where I come from with Ananda Project is trying to push as many tasteful qualities of music that I listen to, from the jazz and Brazilian world, into something that's formattable [sic] for club use by house DJs.”
So while the world goes electro, Brann does his own thing. Wandering through the Wax 'N Facts aisles, he ignores the rock section and heads straight for the jazz. Cherry-picking obscure selections by Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, he quickly builds a stack that any crate-digging expert would envy.
But his excellent taste suddenly appears suspect when he brightens at the sight of Double's Blue. The ultracheesy Swiss group is best known for its smooth-jazz trope “The Captain of Her Heart.” Without irony, Brann praises the song as bittersweet, melancholy and poignant. “I would like to get [lead singer Kurt Maloo] on some house projects,” he says.
Inner Conflicts (Atlantic)
When I was doing P'Taah albums, I was sampling heavily off of stuff like Billy Cobham — drum tracks and weird percussion — because he was doing all this ARP apreggiator stuff and pre-sequencer, control-voltage kind of business. The song from Inner Conflicts, “The Muffin Talks Back,” is crazy, psychedelic jazz fusion.
Lite Me Up (CBS)
A lot of times when I DJ — of course, I don't DJ that frequently — I'll drop this song in a house set, a song on here called “Motormouth,” and it always boosts the dancefloor.
Spirits 1 & 2 (ECM)
Keith Jarrett is one of the foremost improvising musicians in the world. He's a pianist who played with Miles Davis in the '70s. I'm just a huge fan of Keith Jarrett's style. This is a very particular album of his; it's very unique and different. It was recorded in the mid-'80s in his bedroom on a 4-track cassette. The deal was that he was suffering from chronic-fatigue syndrome, and he didn't leave his bedroom for three or four years. As a form of music therapy — he couldn't play piano because he didn't have enough stamina to move his fingers — he did this album on 4-track cassette using hand percussion, flugelhorn, Native American flutes, acoustic guitar — nothing what you'd expect a virtuoso pianist to be doing. To me, it's one of his most vital works. It's very emotional and powerful.
Girl You Know It's True (Arista)
Milli Vanilli ripped their entire sound from Scritti Politti, and they even ripped the name from Scritti Politti. I'm a huge Scritti Politti fan. And if you know Scritti Politti, you know David Gamson, the keyboard player and mastermind behind the whole thing who went on to produce the first two Meshell Ndegeocello albums and two cuts off her third album, Bitter. This all bears no relevance to Milli Vanilli, except I thought Milli Vanilli was cool at the time because they were quoting Scritti Politti in their music, the production and the keyboards. I think David Gamson called [his style] “timbral dynamism.”
PAT METHENY GROUP
This is when they started getting good; it was 1982, I believe. The song that's one of the major standouts in the Pat Metheny Group catalog is called “Are You Going With Me?” I think it's in 6/8, which is not a standard time signature, and what makes it so great to me is the guitar solo that Pat Metheny brings in, except it's not a guitar — it's a guitar synthesizer. Metheny is one of the first to work a unique tone with the Roland GR-300 synthesizer. You can drop this in a deep-house set and get away with it. Deep-house heads will love this song and worship you for it.
Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly (Milestone)
I'll play the title track in a DJ set, too. It's got a little bit of the L.A., cocaine, mid-'70s vibe on it, but the Brazilian sun really shines through it, as well. I like that cross-pollination. It sounds like an L.A. recording circa '76, but the dimension in her voice and the arrangements lift it above that Casablanca era.
I'm sure Jay Dee has sampled “Was Dog a Doughnut?” But I'm not the expert on that. This is a really groundbreaking song by Cat Stevens. It's very early electronic sequenced music. What year is this, 1977? So it's very early control voltage-type stuff. It's not disco at all. It's very relevant to today and very avant-sounding with drum machines and percolating synthesizers.
Wax 'N Facts; 432 Moreland Ave. NE, Atlanta, GA 30307; (404) 525-2275;www.myspace.com/waxnfacts