I think I first encountered the Black Science Orchestra in 1994, when I picked up a copy of The Altered States EP in a Camden basement which was (I think) called Rockit Records, a few doors down from Tusk, where I used to get my hair cut. That’s the 12” that includes Philadelphia and New Jersey Deep, which reworked components of Funkanova’s Wood, Brass And Steel into a new dancefloor classic. I remember someone behind the counter was playing a bootleg of the Louie Vega remix of Mondo Grosso’s Souffles H, and I also bought that unmissably wonderful jazz/house crossover and sat back while it didn’t get a full release for another year.
Ashley Beedle launched the Black Science Orchestra in 1992, with Where Were You?, which helped launch the London-based Junior Boys’ Own imprint on the world stage by giving New York house DJs new music to play carved out of their own disco heritage. There’s a nice YouTube interview with label founders Terry Farley and Steve Hall that fills in more of the background, filmed to mark Defected’s reissue of the catalogue on digital.
Twenty-one years on and the track still sounds fantastic, the intensity gradually building over the warm and fuzzy bassline, taking the best part of four minutes to delay the sweet satisfaction of the soaring Sigma Sound string figure that is the most precious of all the stones mined from sparkling surface of The Trammps’ 1977 New York blackout track, The Night The Lights Went Out.
Ashley’s original partners had been John Howard and Rob Mello (Rob went on to join the sample-grooving Disco Elements team, whose work has not perhaps lasted so well). The Altered States EP debuted the classic line-up, with Ashley joined by DJ/producer Marc Woolford and keyboards player Uschi Classen, which also featured on the 1996 LP Walter’s Room (named in memory of gay New York DJ and production maverick Walter Gibbons). By the time Ashley revived the project in 1999 on Afro Art Records, the label he himself had founded three years earlier, the credits don’t name-check Uschi any more.
The Ladyland EP dates from this final phase, which was to finish in 2002 with the magnificent Headspace Lullaby, marking the end of the project with a track that paradoxically sounds like nothing else that had come over the decade before. I stumbled across the 12” in the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore (retail space now occupied by Primark, which tells its own story about the struggles of the old-school music industry). Had I not been in some way always on the lookout for a Black Science Orchestra record at the time, it might have been easy to miss in the poorly-organised vinyl racks: its promo-style plain white paper sleeve and minimal stickered label (‘The Black Science Orchestra/“Ladyland” EP/With love’) didn’t even include track titles.
The major sample resource is a Brothers Johnson track (Land Of Ladies) from their Quincy Jones-produced debut LP, Look Out For Number One. The A-side is the peak-time people-pleasing version, with its three-note musical hook repeatedly returning until it reaches its brass-backed climax. The first track on the B-side is effectively the dub: considerably sparer, and more or less without vocals, it chugs along to a deeper bassline, accompanied by a guitar riff with a dying fall.
But it’s side two, track two that got away until I started digitising. The pulse has dropped from around 124 to 111 beats per minute, much closer to the original, and the wandering synth lines mirror the source’s contributions from Don Lewis, whom the (very ’70s) credits list as using the Armand Pascettas Polyphonic Synthesized Keyboard System. The whole thing slow-burns with a new intensity, as a new female vocal sample (‘Don’t make me wait’) floats separately through the mix before blending into the main vocal hook. Everything now seems to work towards making something all the more compelling for being a little less obvious. Travelling to the land of ladies has rarely felt more irresistible.
The radio edit of Ananda Project’s Cascades Of Colour on the double-pack from 2000 is a little four-minute burst of magnificence that is somewhat overshadowed by Joe Claussell’s 10-minute mix that is programmed before it. In fact, back in the day, I was so much in thrall to the sweetly melancholy keyboards and chattering percussion of the Sacred Rhythm version that I didn’t give any of the other mixes much of a chance. Plasmic Honey’s hard house take still doesn’t do anything for me, but Ben Watt’s versions are very listenable, even if his signature sound was still a work in progress at the time; and if you want a thumpingly anthemic version of pretty much anything, then Danny Tenaglia (who re-edits Rui Da Silva’s ‘saffron’ mix on the double-pack) is always your man.
Taking its name from a Sanskrit word for ‘bliss’, the Ananda Project is one of several studio aliases of Atlanta, Georgia, producer Chris Brann (who has also created wonderful work as P’taah and scored his first global house hit with King Of My Castle as the Wamdue Project). He is by no means not the only house-based producer to draw inspiration from beyond the dancefloor, but he has an unusually broad range of influences, from Kate Bush to Keith Jarrett, Flora Purim to Prefab Sprout, Arvo Pårt to Trevor Horn.
The Cascades Of Colour EP was the first Ananda Project release in 1998, although I myself missed it at the time (the double-pack of two years later was when I caught up, and I’ve been a devotee ever since). Allowing the graceful five-note piano figure of the title track to materialise out of birdsong was an audacious opening even in the goatee-stroking era of late ’90s deep house, and that full-length version of Chris Brann’s own ‘Wamdue Black’ mix has a wistful beauty all of its own (on the Night Blossom compilation of mixes of material from the more recent Fire Flower album, the man himself uses it to close out his DJ mix on the bonus disc).
But now that I’ve got round to listening to the originally overlooked (by me at least) radio edit, I think it might be even more to the point. (As far as I can hear, the edit doesn’t dispose of any musical content, it simply gets the track underway more speedily and truncates the meditative looping central section.) Like the sunrise and sunset of Gaelle Adisson’s lyrics, it comes and goes too quickly, for sure. But there’s something painfully right about that for a song that seems to be about the futility of attempting to hold on to what are fleeting moments (‘Cascades of colour slip right through your hands/Your castles in the clouds turn back into sand’). Less, it turns out in this case, really is more.