Mellow soul, jazz and a reggae cover of Pink Floyd.
Joe Claussell Mixtape, secretsundaze's first release since 2017, is the first in a series of mixtape-style cassettes (the next will come from Carista). Eschewing obvious dance floor material, it is instead a distillation of black tradition, with music of Malian and Zimbabwean origin alongside American jazz and soul heavyweights. Laid down at Claussell's record shop and community centre, Cosmic Arts, the mixtape plays to his strengths and falls prey to his weaknesses. It shows Claussell's undeniably fine ear, but it also reflects a tendency to get lost in his own head.
Terry Callier's "Love Theme From Spartacus" begins the A-side, a gorgeous tone-setter of plaintive singing and plucked acoustic strings. For a good half hour Claussell builds with piano runs, peals of brass and twangs of mbira. Instead of his usual elongated blends, he mostly folds one song into the next—sometimes with an echo effect, other times with pauses. I wouldn't be surprised to find out Claussell had recorded this sitting at the shop counter, cueing with one hand and waving clientele in with the other.
Some songs shine without interruption. Nina Simone's live rendition of "Westwind," originally by the South African singer Miriam Makeba, is left to air nearly in full, ramping up with increasingly pacy drums and a gripping performance from Simone, as if she was looking out to a tumultuous sea. It seems to foretell a roaring second act. But on Side B, the storm never arrives.
The momentum dissipates within the first 15 minutes, which are taken up by "Breathe," from Easy Star All-Stars' Dub Side Of The Moon, a reggaefied reworking of Pink Floyd, and "Hub-Tones," from last year's mammoth Kamasi Washington album Heaven And Earth. Washington is the most celebrated modern jazz artist of the past ten years, and the original Dark Side Of The Moon is one of the best-selling albums in history. Giving so much space to songs this popular spoils the allure, and Side B never fully recovers it.
Claussell's "Sacred Rhythm Dance" take on Amadou Et Mariam's "Bara" surfaces near the end. It's one of his best remixes, a rich and robust injection of spirit into a song already full of it. It's a reminder of where Claussell's skills truly lie. Flair is his forte. The music on Joe Claussell Mixtape ranges from good to great, but it's put together in a way that doesn't quite leap out the speakers as we've come to expect. Facing a dance floor, Claussell's raw confidence can convert the nonbelievers. When he's at a lower tempo, it's a less emphatic sell.