MASTERS AT WORK-THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION.
MASTERS AT WORK-THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION.
In a recent article about Incognito, I mentioned that I had been listening to a Masters At Work 10th Anniversary box set. Afterwards, I was listening to a few tracks from that box set again, and thought that now would be a good time to write about Masters At Work, who have done so much to popularize modern dance music, especially house music and hip hop. They have been one of dance music’s most successful and innovative remixers and producers, working with the great and good of not only dance music, but music per se. So in this article, I will tell you about Masters At Work’s history, and about the two box sets released to celebrate their tenth anniversary, Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1990-1995 and Part Two 1996-2000.
Little Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzales met when Louie Vega was asked to prepare an idea for an album for Atlantic Records. Vega was then a DJ, remixer and producer. When he was recording the album he brought in a number of artists to perform on the album This included Marc Anthony who would sing the lead vocals, and India who would sing backing vocals and help write the songs with Derek Whitaker. Another member of the team would be added, one which would radically change Vega’s future. Louie Vega had been aware of Kenny “Dope” Gonzales for some time, he was perceived as an up and coming figure in the New York music scene, and Vega had this idea that they may become long term musical partners. Gonzales was brought into the session to help, and the two quickly gelled as a partnership, each complimenting the other’s skills perfectly.
After the session was over, they decided to form a partnership. What they needed was a name, and they hit on the idea of resurrecting one of legendary DJ Todd Terry’s old recording monikers from the 1980s’, Masters At Work. Although the duo did not now it at the time, a legendary and extremely fruitful partnership had just been created. That was 1990, and from that day on, until this day, the pair have produced, remixed and recorded numerous tracks.
From 1990, Masters At Work were perceived as the next big thing in dance music. They were commissioned to remix tracks by a huge variety of artists. One of their earliest successes was their track The Ha Dance. The track was a massive hit in clubland, and established Masters At Work as one of the best up and coming remixers and producers. Another hit followed. This was Our Mute Horn, a deep house track which featured Marc Anthony on background vocals. Like The Ha Dance, Our Mute Horn was a huge success in clubland, cementing their reputation, as one of the hottest remixers of the time. Little did they know what was to follow, and that they would become one of the most successful remixers and producers of all time.
One of their biggest early commissions was when Leslie Doyle commissioned the duo to remix Tito Puente’s Ran Kan Kan. The track was featured in the movie, Mambo Kings. This track allowed Vega and Gonzales to work with session musicians and expand and experiment in a Latin flavored direction. The result was a track that sounded new, fresh and totally innovative.
After that success, other record companies sought to tap in the Masters At Work magic. One such label was Warners, who commissioned them to remix the Saint Etienne single Only Love Can Break Your Heart. This track gave them their biggest underground success, at this stage of their career.
These were some of the projects that allowed the duo to establish their reputation. Since then Masters At Work flourished. Those early commissions got established their reputation, and allowed them to go on and work with many more artists. Some of these artists had high profiles within the music industry. Between 1990 and 1995 Masters At Work went on to work with Babrbara Tucker, Marta Wash, Ce Ce Peniston, Chic, India and Simply Red. They also recorded under a variety of other guises. Masters At Work would record under the names Kenlou, Sole Fusion and Nuyorican Soul.
Masters At Work’s Nuyorican Soul project, saw them work with musicians. This was a change from working with samples and synthesizers. They were able to enlist the help of some wonderful artists and musicians. On the album featured Roy Ayers, George Benson, Jocelyn Brown, Tito Puente and members of the Salsoul Orchestra. The album saw a mixture of music and styles, including disco, jazz and Latin music, and the album featured cover versions of tracks like Runaway and Sweet Tears. These were songs originally covered by Loletta Holloway and Roy Ayers originally. The album was a huge success, and introduced many more people to Masters At Work’s music, albeit, in a different form.
Between 1996 and 2000 Masters At Work’s popularity and profile increased. They were much in demand for remixing and production work. Their services as DJs were also much in demand, and they spent time traveling round the world deejaying at some of the world’s biggest nightclubs. This cemented their reputation even further. During this time, they continued to work with a wide variety of artists, some of which had high profiles in the music world outwith the dance music scene. This would include India, Incognito, Tony Touch, Kenny Lattimore, Daft Punk, George Benson, Luther Vandross and Eternal. This demonstrated how highly thought of Masters At Work were by both artists and people within the industry.
The second box set takes us to 2000. Since then, Masters At Work have continued to remix, produce and DJ. By now they are very much elder statesmen of the dance music scene. However, they still continue to produce some fantastic remixes and original material. Their music is still among the best house music that you will hear anywhere. Regarding their older work, between 1990 and 2000, it is a fantastic canon of work. Within the two box sets, and the eight discs, are some wonderful tracks. These tracks still sound as good in 2011, as they did the day they were produced. They would sound as good in any DJ set today, as they did when they were released. How many house tracks can you say that about? In fact, how much music sounds as good nearly twenty years on? Not many.
Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1990-1995.
Having told you about Masters At Work’s history, I will now pick some of the best tracks from each box set. I will begin with Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1990-1995. This box set has some of their best ever work. It was such a hard job whittling down the number of tracks to review, but I somehow have managed to do so. Here are my six choices from the 1990-1995 box set.
The first track I have chosen is an absolute classic track, one that when it came out, took dancefloors by storm. It is River Ocean featuring India Love and Happiness. From the squawking birds, backing vocals and percussion, to the crunching drum beats, right at the front of the mix, the track has a joyous sound. Love and Happiness builds and builds, its glorious Latin feel enthralling. It is a mammoth track, with India’s vocal at the centre, surrounded by drums and percussion which together, come together to make a classic house track, one that has a great Latin influence to it.
The second track I have chosen also features a female vocalist. This time it is Beautiful People by Barbara Tucker. Beautiful People was a huge hit in 1994, reaching number one on the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart. When you hear it, you will know why. The track starts with keyboards and drums, then straight away, Tucker sings the vocal. Straight away you are transported back, back to a time when house music was in its heyday, and tracks like this were what you would here. Quality slices of vocal house. The arrangement and production is really slick here. Masters At Work have surpassed themselves, this is easily a career highpoint. It is uplifting, inspirational and guaranteed to fill any dance-floor.
Ride On the Rhythm by Marc Anthony at the beginning sounds as if it has its roots in Italian piano house. However, when the track gets going it is a vocal house track. This was one of Vega and Gonzales’ first tracks together, and when you listen to it, you can see why they joined forces. As well as the vocal, I love the rap after about three minutes, it takes the track in a whole new direction, as shows that the duo have always looked to be innovators and pioneers. The track benefits from a very full sound. Within the track are drums, organ, percussion and some fantastic backing vocals, which compliment Anthony’s vocal beautifully. Truly, a great track, even twenty years later.
Carry On by Martha Wash is a fantastic vocal house track. Wash used to be a backing singer for Sylvester, and was also one of the Weather Girls, and sang on some of Black Box’s tracks. It features an absolutely standout vocal performance from Martha Wash. She really has the most fantastic voice, and all Masters At Work has to do was provide a backdrop for her vocal. They do that remarkably well, producing a backdrop containing the most wonderful rhythms and melodies. The track has hooks galore, and it is no wonder the track reached number one in US Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
When You Touch Me by Masters At Work featuring India begins with a drum beating, then immediately the vocal appears. India’s vocal is strong, highlighting the lyrics, giving a vocal masterclass. It is as if she is saying want to know how to sing vocal on a house track? Well watch this. Her vocal is surrounded by keyboards, drums and percussion, which ebb and flow, as does the vocal, one minute soaring, then the next falling, allowing the rest of the track its moment in the sun. It is a track that builds and builds, and features a great arrangement and production. The track ends up a track of epic proportions, one of Masters At Work greatest moments.
My final choice from this box set is Chic Mystique by Chic. Here Masters At Work are working with a legendary group, one who’s reputation dwarfs that of the producers. Before I originally heard the track, I was wondering how they would approach the task, and what they could do to improve on what was a classic sound. I was pleasantly surprised, they have given the Chic sound a much more contemporary sound, in fact, some people found it hard to believe that what they were listening to Chic. The sound is big and bold, the vocal right up the at front of the mix. It is surrounded by drums, organ and percussion, the sound dominates the mix, but does not overpower the vocal, quite the opposite, it compliments it beautifully.
Those are my selections from Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1990-1995. Having listened to the box set a few times over the last couple of days, I am struck by the quality of the remixes and productions on this box set. It was difficult choosing just six tracks to review. In the five year period, Masters At Work worked with a huge number of artists, from various types of music and in doing so, have produced and remixed some wonderful tracks. This box set is well worth buying, on it you will hear some classic house music, as well as some familiar artists who have been given the Masters At Work treatment. Here it included Chic, Daft Punk, Tito Puente, Chic and Simply Red. If that is not enough, you will also find Barbara Tucker, India, Martha Wash, Nuyorican Soul and Ce Ce Peniston. Surely that is a good enough to buy this brilliant box set. If you buy it, I am sure you will thoroughly enjoy some wonderful tracks, from the golden age of house music. Standout Tracks: Love and Happiness by River Ocean featuring India, Beautiful People by Barbara Tucker, Ride On the Rhythm by Marc Anthony, Carry On by Martha Wash, When You Touch Me by Masters At Work featuring India and Chic Mystique by Chic.
Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1990-1995.
Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part Two 1996-2000
Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part Two 1996-2000, sees the duo’s career continuing on an upward spiral. They were amongst the most in demand remixers and producers anywhere. Artists were desperate for Masters At Work to sprinkle some of their magic dust on their music. Some high profile artists arrived at their door, wanting them to introduce their music to a wider audience. This would include Eternal, George Benson and Daft Punk. However, in many cases, they could only do so much. The original track had to have some merit. They were not magicians. If a track had no merit, no amount of remixing and studio trickery could improve it. On the box set however, is a selection of their finest moments, and I have picked my favorite six tracks to review.
To Be In Love by India is my first selection. I know people will be saying, that is the third track he has chosen featuring India, how many more will there be. Well, I can assure you that is the last. India has been a huge part of the Masters At Work success story. Her vocals are on some of their greatest tracks. This track is no exception. The track has a subdued start, and then, quickly drums and keyboards make an appearance, with a beautiful rhythm emerging. Easily the highlight of the track is when India sings. At the start, she gives a much more understated performance, not quite the diva of previous track. However, she quickly finds her voice and goes on to give the sweetest, soulful performance. This is the India we know and love. India has one of the greatest voices you will hear on any house track. So good is her voice, she could easily have had a career as a solo artist in mainstream music. To me, this is her greatest moment, one that will be hard to surpass.
Nights Over Egypt by Incognito was the reason I decided to write this article, and an article on Incognito. I had been listening to this track when I decided to write an article on both Incognito and Masters At Work. This track is from their album No Time Like The Future, a huge success from 1999. It Was originally recorded by The Jones Girls. It was with trepidation that I first listened to Incognito’s version, as the original was a favorite track of mine. I was pleasantly surprised by Incognoto’s cover version, it was a fantastic cover version. Masters At Work have taken Incognito’s track and given it a makeover. It becomes a great house track, starting with the trademark Masters At Work drum beats, an extended introduction, that allows the track to meander at one-hundred and twenty beats per minute. It is nearly a minute and a half before the vocal emerges. When it does it sits firmly behind drums, that do not drown the vocal. It is a masterful arrangement of a classic song, one that adds something to Incognito’s original track. What it adds, is a make it a very danceable track.
I Wonder Why? (He’s the Greatest DJ) by Tony Touch has a slightly different start to it, than a lot of Masters At Work Tracks. The sound is not as big as other tracks, but then the drum beats arrive to fill out the sound. Then comes the piece de resistance, the vocal. As soon as the vocal cuts in you realize you are hearing a quality track. The female vocalist has the sweetest voice, and perfect for the track, she sings it beautifully. What really compliments her vocal is the way the rap appears, and often quickly disappears. It is a nice contrast to the vocal. In addition to the vocal, the drums, percussion, keyboards and fantastic backing vocals all play their part in making this a brilliant track, one that would light up, and fill, any dance-floor.
It’s Alright I Feel It by Nuyorican Soul is a track from Masters At Work 1993 Nuyorican Soul project. It is a track that has a heavy Latin influence to it, when you listen to the introduction especially. The track features a gloriously powerful vocal performance, a wonderful piano solo and an abundance of Latinesque percussion. However, the best thing about the track is by far, the vocal. Its power and passion, take this track from being a good track, to a great one. The arrangement and production on the track is perfect, Masters At Work have used all their experience to produce one of the most passionate tracks on the box set.
Sunshine After the Rain by Monday Michiru has a dramatic start booming drums, underlaid by more drums and percussion. The tempo starts quick, the slows down when the vocal enters. Just as quickly, the tempo quickens, and we are of on a joyful journey of some wonderful vocal house. At the front of the mix, sits a great vocal, bright, uplifting and wonderfully soulful. Another of the tracks highlights, is the brass section, especially the trumpet solo, which is just the icing on the cake, as far as the track is concerned. Throughout just over eleven minutes, your spirits are lifted, you are taken on the most wonderful musical journey. It is a track you will never tire of hearing.
Runaway by Nuyorican Soul is quite simply one of the greatest tracks on this box set. It is a gloriously, uplifting good time song, one that never fails to get people started. On this version, Jocelyn sings the lead vocal, no easy task, when the original was sung by the legendary Loletta Holloway. Brown does a great job, and although only a few members of the Salsoul Orchestra are present on this track, it stays true to the original. I won’t say it is as good as the original, that would be pushing things a bit far, that, in my opinion, is one of the greatest dance-floor classics ever. This version is good, Masters At Work have played it straight, neither trying to trick-up the track too much, nor trying to better the original. A great track, worth the price of the box set, one that will get you dancing, it is impossible not to when you hear the track.
Over the last few days, I have listened to this box set three times. It tool me that amount of time to choose the six best tracks, so hard a task it was. The problem was, that there is so much good music within this box set. You listen to one disc and think that is good, then you the next disc is even better. This continues throughout four discs, full of great track. In the end, you go back to tracks that have long been favorites, ones that are classic Masters At Work tracks. This box set Part Two 1996-2000, was released on the same day as Part One 1990-1995, and together over eight discs was a snapshot of one of the greatest and most prolific production teams in dance music. Part Two 1996-2000, like its predecessor, some of their greatest tracks, and I would go as far as say, some of the greatest tracks in the history of house music.
If you are interested in finding out more about house music, this is a great way to find out more about it. Should you want to merely relive your youth, this box set will bring back some wonderful memories. However, if having read this article, you find yourself thinking, I quite fancy buying this box set, or both box sets, I would say go ahead, you won’t regret it. You will hear some wonderful music, music that takes us back to a time when house music was at its peak, when there was so much great music around, produced by some wonderful artists and producers, of which Masters At Work were one of the best. Standout Tracks: To Be In Love by India, Nights Over Egypt by Incognito, I Wonder Why? (He’s the Greatest DJ) by Tony Touch, It’s Alright I Feel It by Nuyorican Soul, Sunshine After the Rain by Monday Michiru and Runaway by Nuyorican Soul.
Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part Two 1996-2000
- Posted in: House ♦ Soulful House
- Tagged: Beautiful People by Barbara Tucker, Carry On by Martha Wash, I Wonder Why? (He’s the Greatest DJ) by Tony Touch, Kenny “Dope” Gonzales, Little Louie Vega, Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part One 1995-2000, Masters At Work 10th: The Anniversary Collection Part Two 1990-1995, Ride On the Rhythm by Marc Anthony, Sunshine After the Rain by Monday Michiru, When You Touch Me by Masters At Work featuring India