Louie Vega - NYC Disco (2018)

Louie Vega
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Louie Vega - NYC Disco

As a part of the Masters at Work duo, “Little Louie” Vega has been churning out Latin-infused house remixes on some of the biggest names in music – acts like Madonna, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire – for nearly three decades. And his devout love for New York, his native home, has been proven over the years, from splashy house covers of Salsoul Orchestra classics (“Runaway” with Nuyorican Soul and singer India) to the gigantic 25th anniversary mega-mix dedicated to the West End Records catalog in 2001. But Vega’s latest, NYC Disco, stands tall as his most personal tribute to the city’s vibrant dance legacy to date.

Louie Vega - NYC Disco

As a part of the Masters at Work duo, “Little Louie” Vega has been churning out Latin-infused house remixes on some of the biggest names in music – acts like Madonna, Donna Summer, Janet Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire – for nearly three decades. And his devout love for New York, his native home, has been proven over the years, from splashy house covers of Salsoul Orchestra classics (“Runaway” with Nuyorican Soul and singer India) to the gigantic 25th anniversary mega-mix dedicated to the West End Records catalog in 2001. But Vega’s latest, NYC Disco, stands tall as his most personal tribute to the city’s vibrant dance legacy to date.

Inside the gargantuan double-disc collection, the club kid powers through twenty-seven tracks of uptempo percussion-heavy wonderment, divided up with loopy Latin jazz-bent originals, obscure remixes of underground gems and 21st century mixes of ‘70’s and ‘80’s club favorites. Most of these contributions come from the vaults of disco/funk label Sam Records. Now acquired by Nervous Records, the label Vega was originally signed to, Sam Records is being reintroduced to a new audience through this collection. It’s a long time coming, considering it once was a major force in New York disco culture.

A large segment of the set is geared towards new material, tracks that could’ve easily been inspired by the quintessential disco of Vega’s upbringing.  A thunderous “Rebel Nation” kicks off the affair with whirly Patrick Adams synths from the Cloud One days. Then gospel giant BeBe Winans leaps into “He Promised Me,” a spirited house gospel track bubbling over with Jasper Street Company tinged piano and fiery gospel choir chants. Delve deeper and the parade of ear candy continues with the album’s glowing rarity, a daring mix of a previously unreleased track by Luther Vandross. Taken from the Never Too Much session, “Get Myself Together” makes its official debut here with Vega’s production strengthening, a type of finish that bears a Jamiroquai-like gloss. He even corrals Vandross’s longtime backing vocalists – Lisa Fischer, Cindy Mizelle, Tawatha Agee, Brenda White, Paulette McWilliams – to give the track that distinctive Luther blueprint. The investment works, giving NYC Disco its proudest moment.

That’s not to say that the rest of the two-hour and thirty minute showcase doesn’t rise to the occasion. First Choice alum Rochelle Fleming and longtime Vega vocalist Barbara Tucker definitely gel well together on their adaptation of Stevie Wonder’s “Love Having You Around,” one that precisely mirrors the First Choice-Norman Harris 1977 version, except with more modern percussion and salsa soul. Like an EW&F jam, the Martinez Brothers-featured “Love Paradox” explores “ba-da-da-dah” chants, jazzy disco and punchy brass. “Get With the Funk” masterfully blends Gary Gang’s sonic struts with elements of Instant Funk’s trademark party jamming via “I Got My Mind Made Up.” With whistles, old school joy and the recognizable “say whaaat” phrase, Vega pulls off yet another ode to Salsoul gold. Vicky D’s rollerskate synth jam “This Beat Is Mine” is sped up like a Studio 54 trip and feels slightly muted. Indeep’s ‘80’s favorite “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” is also revived with vocalist Anane Vega pouring vixen sass upon the Chic-like guitar grooves. And speaking of Chic, “Dancing for Your Love,” an original track Vega credits as homage to Ashford & Simpson and disco orchestra king John Davis, plays more like a Nile Rodgers workout. Those hungry for more tributes dedicated to Ashford & Simpson and the SAM Records catalog are scattered across the playing field of both discs, including Davis’s masterful take on A&S’s “Bourgie Bourgie,” a DJ Jazzy Jeff-scratched “I Can’t Stop” and Gary Gang’s “Keep on Dancing.”

Of course another huge draw to NYC Disco is what Vega brings to the table for the throwbacks. On disc two, more of that can be found. Pretty much all the content on board, deep cuts coming from the vaults of SAM Records, is quite obscure, but it’s still relatively good listening. Tracks like John Davis’s “Love Magic,” Rhyze’s “Just How Sweet Is Your Love” and the shiny jam “Don’t Give Your Love Away,” revealing Steve Shelto with his best D-Train knockoff, are all given a modest remastering upgrade. Closing out that disc is a reworked “Let’s Do It” featuring fresh vocal overdubs from Leroy Burgess.

Of course, the fingerprints of exemplary Vega are all over NYC Disco, even in the remastered vault material, but he gets extra points for bringing together a versatile, seasoned collection of singers and musicians on fitting tributes to disco’s glory days. Sure, some of the originals feature repetitive sections and some of the remakes will never replace the timelessness of the originals, but NYC Disco is quite impressive and stands as a rousing testament to a city’s powerful reach on an entire genre. Although the apparent focus is on SAM Records, Vega does an incredible job in opening his umbrella to make room for glorious tributes to the various labels that made New York disco music so special, which include Salsoul, West End, Prelude, Atlantic and even Philadelphia International (via John Davis’s Monster Orchestra). Highly Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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