Friday, 28 October 2016

Zarenzeit – Black Inside – DeepArtSounds

WE lost more than one Prince this year.

Not so high profile yet striking a more personal note for me was the passing of Prince Be, one half of hippie-rap combo P.M. Dawn. He was one of the more colourful and charismatic characters to emerge during the early nineties and the band’s take on pop, hip hop and the industry of music was more blissful, inspiring and curious than most. 

I was reminded of him again recently on hearing this album. Not in a musical way as such, although they do share an era and certain sense of soulfulness, but because as I sat back and wallowed in its glory I was Set Adrift On Memory Bliss.

Black Inside is in many ways an unashamed nostalgia trip. Even the cover photography harks back to the time that made these tracks. It’s a past that is clearly held dear to its creator George Boutopoulos [aka George Btp], co-founder of Zurich-based label deepArtSounds. Indeed, Black Inside is imbued with such intense warmth, comfort and sincerity that on each listen I find myself transported back to another time and place too when soul was the music of love and house still in its early years.

Although technically a collaborative project involving Boutopoulos’s label partner Roberto Pistolese [aka Robert P], indeed the pair formed the band as a live act in 1993, Zarenzeit’s debut album has got Btp’s fingerprints all over it. Even the name, which means era of the Tsars, was inspired by an article he read during one of many musical and cultural trips to Berlin during his formative years in the early-to-late nineties.

And despite many other quality releases as Dan Piu and Allstarr Motomusic, given the style, substance and context of Black Inside – the clue is in the title, innit? – coupled with the fact that Boutopoulos penned or co-wrote every track, you get the feeling that this time it’s personal.

Because not only is Black Inside the culmination of a project that started more than 20 years ago, which in itself must be deeply personal and satisfying, musically it is the autobiography of a soul boy who, amongst many other things no doubt, discovered house and Larry Heard. Much like me.

With the entire album sharing a musical DNA, it’s near impossible to pick stand out tracks. They all stand out.

Melodious and moreish instrumentals such as opening cut Time Travel, the perky Grown In The Bird Hood and slightly melancholic Junkietown clearly share a certain je ne sais quoi, whilst the title track and There, But Here As Well are tributes to Zarenzeit’s house and jazz roots respectively. The gorgeous-yet-brief Let Them Think They Won, meanwhile, evokes shades of the incomparable Mr Fingers himself more than any other number on here; deep, soulful and wondrous.

Regular collaborator Sarignia Bonfà, surely one of the best house vocalists to emerge of late, shares credits and lends her talents to the sensuous Love Mood and gospel-inspired Talk About A Child. On a different tack, the soft, spoken-word delivery of guest vocalist and writer Debra Jones-Davis, director at the superb Altered Moods, is simply sublime on 2souls, 1heart, her own heartfelt tribute to the other Prince. Oh Ms Jones, where have you been all my life?

Black Inside resonates deeply with this old soul boy turned househead. It’s sweet, as we used to say, a debut of impressive proportions for the Zarenzeit vehicle that may even prove to be Boutopoulos’s magnum opus.

Check out:
deepArtSounds @ Juno
Black Inside @ SoundCloud

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