Downtime has come

Nov 22, 2000 at 12:00 am

Somewhere between cheese-fodder for Blues Brothers jokes and so damn hip as to be the of the moment, ’70s lounge-funk disappeared into deepest, darkest England. Into Hull, to be precise, which is sort of like disappearing into Detroit’s immediate Downriver. Or Gary, Ind. Or Akron. But the rare groove stalwarts who make up Baby Mammoth, revolutionaries of a down-tempo sound that is either the filter or the finance capital of lounge’s resurgence, have done more than their share of keeping this sound fresh to new ears.

The textures of this “best of” release are a groove-heavy primer in the history of heady (not airy) chill-out music. With tracks selected and mixed by Pork Recordings’ label founder, this CD is a funk-worm, a subversive piece of propaganda for music you’ll want to sway to endlessly without embarrassment.

And this CD revels in five years of consistent output, as if mammoths have the memories (and stubbornness) of elephants. Five years after some of these tracks were first produced, the sound is finally current. Perhaps even more impressive, after six albums, none of the parts are out of step. Unlike the inconsistency often marking commercial success, Baby Mammoth has been doing its unique thing, living in the certainty that, sooner or later, the rest of us would wake up.

The smoky stylishness of the vocals on “I’m Not Joking” channel ghosts of Billie Holiday, hovering between toughness and desire. And although this is the closest thing to a traditional song that you’ll find on this mammoth CD, the lush, opaque aesthetic follows throughout. The opening horn lines of “Tasty Maloney” draw their inordinate power to impress from our inability to locate them wholly in Holiday’s dark nostalgia or in Herb Albert’s brass clarity.

Get an education in what downtime can mean — find this disc.

E-mail Marc Christensen at [email protected].