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coverpic flag Mare Smythii - Full Moon 223 - 11/06/14

Various Artists
Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell
Yep Roc Records / Red Hot Organization

Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell is the newest release from the not-for-profit Red Hot Organization, bringing in funds to fight AIDS and HIV (through pop culture), as well as being a homage to the artist Arthur Russell, who lost in the battle against HIV back in 1992, aged forty. Russell was an innovative cellist/composer/electronic pioneer back in the 1980s (until his death), and he crossed (or erased) the borders of genres such as electronic dance, via folk to classical music. His musical legacy is hailed to be '...catchy and hypnotic records that were far ahead of their time.' (NPR) Master Mix... features 26 tracks by more than 20 artists (solely US acts), from José González (Sweden), Hot Chip (plus their singer Alexis Taylor), Sufjan Stevens, Liam Finn (New Zealand), Oh Mercy (Australia), Cults, Devendra Banhart and Phosphorescent, to Scissor Sisters, Blood Orange (A.K.A. Dev Hynes, formerly known as Lightspeed Champion, plus a former member of Test Icicles) and Robyn (Sweden). One of the contributors, Devendra Banhart has citied Russell being the inspiration for moving to New York: "It felt somewhat taboo to be messing with such sacrosanct materials. [...] We recorded as our way of saying to everyone, 'Listen to Arthur!'." Banhart also dedicated his 2013 album, Mala to Russell.

RHO has since 1989) released over 15 compilation albums. From the very first compilation, the jazz'n'folk'n'pop'n'rock tinted Red Hot + Blue (Chrysalis 1990), featuring a broad spectre of artists such as: Neneh Cherry, The Neville Brothers, Sinéad O'Connor, Salif Keita, Annie Lennox, U2, Erasure, Deborah Harry + Iggy Pop, The Pogues + Kirsty MacColl, David Byrne, Tom Waits, Les Negresses Vertes, k.d. lang, Aztec Camera, plus others (with music videos directed by acclaimed and/or profiled film directors such as Wim Wenders, Jonathan Demme, Percy Adlon, Neil Jordan, and Alex Cox), there has been a long line of benefit albums in the Red Hot series, presenting musical mixtures and artistic couples/triplets/etc. or doing some different twist to what is expected: the dance-tinted Red Hot + Dance (1992), feat. George Michael, Madonna, Lisa Stansfield, EMF, and Sly & the Family Stone plus others; the grungy/alt.rocky No Alternative (Arista 1993), feat. Nirvana, Soul Asylum, Urge Overkill, Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, Bob Mould, Soundgarden, Uncle Tupelo, Beastie Boys (!), The Breeders, Patti Smith, and many more; the indie-rocking Red Hot + Bothered (RHO/Kinetic/Reprise 1993), feat. Lisa Germano, Folk Implosion, Built to Spill + Caustic Resin, Gastr Del Sol, The Sea and Cake, The Grifters, East River Pipe, Jay Farrar + Kelly Willis, The Verlaines, Heavenly, plus several others; the 'behatted' Red Hot + Country (Mercury Nashville 1994), feat. names such as: Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills + Nash, Duane Eddy, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jimmy Dale Gilmore + Willie Nelson, Nanci Griffith + Jimmy Webb, Billy Ray Cyrus, Wilco (with Syd Straw) as well as several others; the jazz vs. hip hop platter Red Hot + Cool: Stolen Moments (GRP 1994), feat. names/mixed pairs like Donald Byrd with Guru + Ronny Jordan, MC Solaar + Ron Carter, Meshell Ndegeocello (+ Herbie Hancock), Digable Planets with Lester Bowie + Wah Wah Watson, The Pharcyde, The Roots, Incognito + Carleen Anderson, Groove Collective + Bernie Worrell, Us3 with Joshua Redman + Tony Rémy, Umar Bin Hassan + Abiodun Oyewole (formerly of the Last Poets) with Pharoah Sanders, and Don Cherry + The Watts Prophets; the spiritual, electronic and ambient, spoken-wordy and trip hopping, yes, even jazzy spiced Offbeat: A Red Hot Soundtrip (TVT 1996), feat. Skylab, DJ Krush, DJ Spooky, Laika, Meat Beat Manifesto, Emergency Broadcast Network, as well as artists/bands like David Byrne, Christian McBride, Barry Adamson, Mark Eitzel, Ben Neill, Tortoise, and My Bloody Valentine; the hip hop-tinted America Is Dying Slowly (1996), including a collaborating mix-bag counting names such as: Mobb Deep, De La Soul, Coolio, Killah Priest, The Lost Boyz, Pete Rock, Diamond D, Common and Wu-Tang Clan; the (contemporary) tribute to the Bossa nova dance entitled Red Hot + Rio (1996), feat. Money Mark, Everything but the Girl, Astrud Gilberto + George Michael, PM Dawn with Flora Purim, Crystal Waters, Maxwell, Cesária Évora + Caetano Veloso + Ryuichi Sakamoto, Incognito + Omar + Ana Caram, Milton Nascimento, Antonio Carlos Jobim + Sting, David Byrne + Marisa Monte, Stereolab + Herbie Mann, Mad Professor, Ivo Meirelles + Funk 'n Lata, Gilberto Gil, Cazuza + Bebel Gilberto and more; the Latin fused Silencio=Muerte : Red Hot + Latin (H.O.L.A Records 1997), feat. Los Lobos + Money Mark, Café Tacvba + David Byrne, Los Pericos + Buju Banton, Sen Dog, Juan Perro, Geggy Tah + King Changó, Cibo Matto, Laurie Anderson, Rubén Blades + Son Miserables, Melissa Etheridge, Sepultura, to name but a few; the futuristic and fusionistic Onda Sonora: Red Hot + Lisbon (Bar/None Records 1998), feat. David Byrne + Caetano Veloso, Ketama + Djavan + Banda Feminina Didá, Bonga + Marisa Monte + Carlinhos Brown, General D + Funk' N' Lata, Moreno Veloso + Sadjo Djolo Koiate, k.d. lang, António Chainho, Delfins + Tó Smoke City, Filipe Mukenga + Underground Sound Of Lisbon, DJ Spooky, Netos Do N'Gumbé, Arto Lindsay, The Durutti Column, plus more; then there was the jazz-groovy Red Hot + Rhapsody : The Gershwin Groove (Verve/Antilles 1998), feat. Bobby Womack, David Bowie, The Roots, Morcheeba, Natalie Merchant (of 10,000 Maniacs), Jovanotti and a host of others; then came the somewhat jazzy Red Hot + Indigo (RHO 2000) feat. Mary J. Blige, Joan Armatrading, Propellerheads + Martha Wainwright, The Roots (feat. D'Angelo), Kenny Burrell, Terry Callier, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Tortoise and others; and then came the Afrobeat thrill of Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti (MCA 2002), feat. Fela Kuti (obviously), Mixmaster Mike, Gift of Gab, and Lateef, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, D'Angelo, Femi Kuti, Macy Gray, and the Soultronics, Nile Rodgers, Roy Hargrove, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Common and Djelimady Tounkara, Les Nubians, Manu Dibango, Tony Allen, Baaba Maal, Kelis, Sade, Taj Mahal and others; and finally there was 2009's Dark Was the Night (4AD, 2009) feat. The National, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors and more, and here's the youngest member of the RHO family: Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell.

Arthur Russell (A.K.A. Loose Joints, Dinosaur, Dinosaur L, Indian Ocean, and/or Killer Whale), who's tagged within the genres: 'Avant-garde, experimental, minimalism, power pop, new wave, disco, post-disco' by Wikipedia, found a somewhat commercial success in New York's underground dance/disco scene during the 1970s/1980s. He collaborated with artists such as Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, Talking Heads, Jennifer Warnes, Bootsy Collins, to name but a few. All this said, and with Russell being the innovative and prolific artist that he was, he only got to release one full album before he died (he's said to have some near-chronic inability to finish projects, and being notorious for leaving songs unfinished): World of Echo (Upside Records/Rough Trade Records, 1986). Yet, when Russell died in 1992, this happened in relative obscurity and he was nearly broke. Master Mix is said to embody '...the genre-defying, experimental spirit that defined Russell's work'. In his time, Russell moved 'effortlessly between New York City's various music scenes, recording disco beats alongside Nicky Siano one night, and the next, crafting slow, haunting tracks in his apartment with his cello and idiosyncratic warbling voice' (RHO). The New Yorker has called his musical works: '...stranded between lands real and imagined: the street and the cornfield; the soft bohemian New York and the hard Studio 54 New York; the cheery bold strokes of pop and the liberating possibilities of abstract art', while composer Philip Glass has said of Russell's music: 'It does not submit to formula, but subverts the formula.' Yes, and this compilation is a spendid collection of songs conducted by a fine line of artists. The recording oozes with excellent songs, presented in the most glorious way by the various interpreters. It is hard to mention only a few of the highlights from this long-stretched album (it holds one hour and 44 minutes of music!). The highlights line up all the way throughout the album, with José González's lovely "This Is How We Walk On The Moon", Sufjan Stevens' glorious "A Little Lost", Scissor Sisters' wild and wonderful "That's Us/Wild Combination", Richard Reed Parry, Little Scream, Sam Amidon, Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld's energetic rubber ball of a song "Keeping Up", Robyn's bouncy "Tell You", Liam Finn, Ernie Brooks & Peter Zummo's touching "This Love Is Crying", The Revival Hour's (who are DM Stith and John-Mark Lapham) "Hiding Your Present from You", Devendra Banhart's low-voiced "Losing My Taste For The Night Life", Phosphorescent's luminous and see-through "You Can Make Me Feel Bad", Thao & The Get Down Stay Down's "Nobody Wants A Lonely Heart", The Autumn Defense's (starring John Stirratt, ex-Uncle Tupelo and Wilco) "Oh Fernanda Why", and Oh Mercy's "Planted A Thought", and Redding Hunter's closing "Close My Eyes", popping out as some of the most shiny diamonds. There are more, of course - you'd better go check for yourself.

I'd like to get to see the documentary film on Russell and his life as well. US filmmaker Matt Wolf directed a feature-length, in-depth documentary called Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, which was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008. This compilation has also come to life with contributions from Russell's longtime partner Tom Lee and the Arthur Russell Estate. Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell is an enriching listen.

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