2010 marks the 15th Anniversary of Harmless records and to celebrate they’ve recruited award-winning compiler, record collector and DJ Dean Rudland to put together Pulp Fusion: The Return Of The Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics all-new set of some of the best and most elusive cuts from the jazz and funk fusion scene. Nico Franks speaks to Dean and gets the skinny on the best way to craft the perfect compilation and why Pulp Fusion still should matter to anyone calling themselves a music fan.
How familiar were you with the Pulp Fusion releases when you got asked to compile another album?
Pulp Fusion is a classic compilation and I remember when that first came out, how important it was to the funk and soul scene. It brought it to people who listened to hip-hop records and dance records that had bits of pieces of funk and soul in them. There had been lots of compilations around but that first one captured a really good point between mainstream and obscure – it wasn’t just giving funks top-10 hits but it was giving something that people could identity with.
Do you see this compilation as an attempt to bring a new generation onto a genre of music that they aren’t really subjected to normally?
Well we’re hoping so, though what’s more likely to happen is that it’ll remind people of a certain age group that this stuff is still out there and is still relevant to them. 10 years ago, if you were 20 and into dance music then it would be appeal to you, now I think the age group is people aged 30 and up that’s gonna get into this. Hopefully people outside of this age group will get it but I think that’s where this music is at.
Are there any rare classics in particular on this compilation that you are particularly proud of unearthing? The notes on the album state ‘Compiled with love by Dean Rudland’, but are there ever frustrating points in the process?
It’s a labour of love and stress really. You go after things and people tell you, ‘Oh no, we don’t have the rights or no won’t license it to you’. Choosing the tracks is almost the easiest bit.
Do you always have a song in mind when you’re compiling, or do you come across songs you never knew existed?
I think for this one we wanted to give a batch of really strong classics, a celebration of 30 or so great tracks rather than ‘here’s some super-obscure b-sides that was flavour of the moment with a couple of club DJs but ultimately isn’t that great.
Some of the tracks have a quite a history in the hip-hop scene, being sampled. The Politicians track was used by Dre and was very popular with the West Coast producers. It’s that kind of thing that helps you hone in one what tracks you choose.
Do you see many of the artists on this compilation as underrated and deserving of a much wider audience?
You’ve got guys like Gil-Scott Heron who do get recognition, who have been around for a long time but I think because of their ubiquity people sometimes people forget just how good they are. People say he’s great but I don’t think people really appreciate just how much of a genius Gil is.
On the songs with lyrics, a few of them carry a political message- was that a conscious decision when you chose those songs?
Yeah, that was something of the era where black artists were being encouraged to make statements like that, in the post-60s radicalism of that classic 70s funk period – they were talking to their constituency who wanted to be told that there were problems out there and that people recogised that there were problems out there.
Do you see Spotify, which allows people a huge database of songs for to make their own personal playlists, as threatening the future compilation album?
I think Spotify, at two years old, is a novelty. For the moment, and I don’t know for how much longer, people like the idea that they can choose things for themselves, but when I started out I knew very little about any music. I learnt about music by other people telling me, by buying compilations, by people pointing me in the right direction, from that angle.
Maybe the need for a well-put together compilation album will disappear or maybe people will realise that what they’re doing is buying the same things…it’s like i-Tunes vs. a well-curated record store. When I’m buying stuff off iTunes or Amazon, I buy what I know. It’s too big to browse properly. All great record stores I’ve ever been in, guys who own it will be playing records. When I worked in a record store we knew records we could throw on and we’d sell copies of ‘cos kids would come in and say, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ Certain records, not necessarily your favourites, but ones you knew were good and you knew had appeal, you could sell all day.
Any particular favourite track on the album?
So many of them are favourites of mine. Ultimately, to me, The Bottle is one of the greatest records ever ever made. It’s just a piece of pure genius. The Joe Bataan version is on there as well, which obviously proves how much I love that record haha. But the Gil Scott-Heron version, the lyrics, the performance, just everything about that record is a piece of genius and it’s uncompromising but it’s accessible. It’s just an amazing piece of work.
‘Uncomprimising’ seems to describe this album very well, is that what you think appeals to people about the Pulp Fusion albums?
I think the sound feels very real. The sounds I know from going to clubs a lot when I was in my late teens and hearing Giles Peterson playing songs like that, it sounds great on a soundsystem but it also sounds great at home.
Pulp Fusion: The Return Of The Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics is released on Harmless records on September 6th.
For those unfamiliar with jazz and funk fusion, ‘Pulp Fusion: The Return of the Original Ghetto Jazz & Funk Classics’ might be a bit of a bewildering experience. Yet for those partial to a bit of saxophone and bass noodling, oft-played in retro underground clubs, you’re likely to find something to love in this ambitious 28-song compilation. Whether or not you’ll have the patience to find it is a different matter.
The songs can go from the sublime (‘The World We Live In’- The Politicians) to the ridiculous (‘It’s A Trip’ – The Last Poets) and then back to the sublime again (‘Fairchild’ – Willie West) all in the space of 10 minutes. In truth, you might find that the skip button on your chosen listening device gets some frequent usage- but take a step back from the compilation as a whole and there is much to admire. The restrained guitar fills on ‘Get Down With The Get Down’ by Melvin Sparks, Gil-Scott Heron’s admirable social commentary on ‘The Bottle’ or the filthy groove of Average White Band’s ‘Person to Person’- ghetto jazz and funk aficionado or not, the songs are still enjoyable.
However on other songs the groove can be overbearing, such is the intensity of some of the playing as one extended keyboard solo follows another and the 8th consecutive saxophone jam begins to grate. A decent chunk of this compilation album will satisfy the die-hard fans only, but you get the impression that satisfying the fanatics is what the ‘Pulp Fusion’ series is all about. You can’t accuse the creators of dealing in half-measures either, refusing to fall back on mainstream clichéd classics in an attempt to bump up sales. The compilation oozes an authentic sound to which hip-hop is indebted to, a sound that is stylish, at times frustrating, yet undeniably the real deal.