MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUMES 1-6 THE OM RECORDS’ YEARS.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUMES 1-6 THE OM RECORDS’ YEARS.

In an article I wrote a few months ago, I featured one of my favorite record labels OM  Records, which over the years, has released a huge amount of great albums since the label was founded in 1995. Since I wrote that article, I’ve been planning to write another article, featuring more of the great compilations released by OM. However, while I was looking through the various albums OM have released, I came across one of my favorite series of compilations they’ve released, the Mushroom Jazz series, compiled by Mark Farina. Between 1996 and 2008, Mark released six volumes of the Mushroom Jazz compilations, before releasing a seventh volume on the Mri-Red label. In this article, I’ll just focus on Volumes 1-6 released on OM. Over the years, they were one of the most popular series OM released, featuring a mixture of laid-back downtempo grooves, which mix hip hop, trip hop and nu-jazz. Before I tell you about the music on each album, I’ll briefly tell you about Mark Farina, the mastermind behind the Mushroom Jazz series.

Mark Farina was born in Chicago, inMarch 1969. He is now musician and DJ, and is best known for playing house, acid jazz and downtempo music. In 1988, his world changed when he met Derrick Carter, another legendary DJ at a record shop in his hometown. After that meeting, the music he was playing changed totally. Suddenly, his focus changed to a style of music that wasn’t usually heard in the main rooms in the bigger clubs. Instead, it was played mostly in the smaller rooms, away from the main room. He began playing music that was away from the mainstream, music which would later be heard on his Mushroom Jazz series. This was acid jazz, hip hop, urban beats, jazzy West Coast music that had an organic sound and downtempo music. Quickly, what became the Mushroom Jazz club night, took off, becoming hugely popular. Later, when the club Mark held the club nights closed, he hooked up with OM Records, and began releasing the Mushroom Jazz compilations. Volume 1 was released in 1996, and after that, five further volumes followed, with Mushroom Jazz quickly becoming a hugely popular series. However, there is much more to Mark Farina than Mushroom Jazz.

Apart from releasing the Mushroom Jazz series, Mark has released a number of other albums for OM and other labels. He produces his own tracks, and is quite a prolific producer, releasing many tracks over the years. This music ranges in style, from house, hip hop and downtempo and demonstrates his versatility as a musician and producer. However, as well as being a musician and producer, Mark DJ’s around the world. Like his work as a musician and producer, he is a prolific DJ, traversing the globe every year, playing hundreds of sets. His sets are legendary, and can last up to eight hours, and sometimes, he has been known to play two different rooms at one club, on the same night. Quite simply, Mark Farina is one of the hardest working people in dance music. Having told you about Mark’s background. I’ll now pick three tracks from each of the Mushroom Jazz compilations.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 1.

Mushroom Jazz Volume 1 was released by OM in 1996. It features a wide ranging mix of jazz inspired beats which are a mixture of laid-back downtempo tracks and ones that are perfect for the dance-floor. In a way, they’re representative of one of Mark’s Mushroom Jazz club nights. Mark recorded and produced one of the tracks, Midnight Calling (Fly Amanita Remix). There are twelve tracks on the album, which range from 80 to 148 beats per minute, and I’ll now choose my three favorite tracks.

Get This by Groove Nation is my first choice and features a sample from a Marlena Shaw track playing in the background, as a warm, jazzy guitar solo is accompanied by the rhythm and brass section augmented by percussion. Drumbeats complete what is a mixture of jazz music and urban beats, that are perfect for the dance-floor. Later, a flute solo plays, accompanied by trumpet, guitar, scratches and samples. Together, with a lovely jazz inspired arrangement, the addition of scratches and samples give the track a slight urban sound and feel, on what is one of compilation’s highlights.

Midnight Calling by Naked Funk featuring Valerie Etienne is a quite different track to my first choice, with a house sound and feel. It begins with drums, crisp and loud accompanied by keyboards, with filter used to change the sound, and a few scratches before Valerie’s vocal. Her powerful and evocative vocal sits at the front of the mix, and reminds me of a vocal from an old Soul II Soul album. Meanwhile, crisp beats, scratches and percussion accompany her. Later, a funky bass, wah-wah guitar and effects and scratches combine with keyboards, when the vocal drops out. The track has a feel-good sound, and throughout the track, filter slightly mutes the arrangement. Valerie’s gives a great rendition of some lovely lyrics, and  a combination of her great vocal, and an arrangement that mixes the best of funk, hip hop and urban beats make this a fantastic track.

Magic Use It by Lahomie Washburn is my final choice from the compilation, and it’s another track that features a great vocal. The track opens with bass and slow, crisp and regular drumbeats accompanying the vocal, which although loud and clear, has a warmth. Behind the vocal, the arrangement has more space than previous tracks, with the bass, spacey drumbeats and occasional contributions from guitar and brass section. Later in the track, occasional scratches feature, as do synths. They all drop in and out of the track, leaving the bass, drumbeats and the vocal to take centre-stage. As the track progresses, the vocal grows, becoming loud and powerful, with scratches and the brass section playing a larger part. What makes this such a good track is the combination of the vocal, funky bass and spacey drumbeats, augmented by scratches, guitar and brass section. Together, they make a track that’s brilliantly repetitive, hugely catchy, and combines a soulful vocal with elements of jazz and hip hop.

Having spent some time listening what was the first volume of Mushroom Jazz, what struck me was the sheer quality of the tracks. There isn’t a bad track on the compilation. This is unusual in compilations, as usually there are a couple of poorer tracks. Not here, Mark has selected some great tracks, and mixed them together really smoothly. Picking my favorite tracks was difficult, as I could’ve picked just about any of them. However, the question is, will Mark continue to select as good tracks on Volume 2? Standout Tracks: Get This by Groove Nation, Midnight Calling by Naked Funk featuring Valerie Etienne and Magic Use It by Lahomie Washburn. 

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 1.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 2.

It was another two years before Mark released Mushroom Jazz Volume 2 in 1998. This compilation saw Mark change the musical style slightly, picking what were, a collection of mid-tempo tracks, which have an organic feel. Here, the tempo ranged from 92 to 152 beats per minute, and were perfectly suited to either a club environment or just chilling at home. However, the question was, could Mark produce as good a compilation as Volume 1? After, I’ve picked my three favorites, I’ll tell you if he succeeded.

Sandworms by Andy Caldwell vs Darkhorse is my first choice. Andy Caldwell is someone who has played a huge part in the success of OM Records, compiling and producing a number of tracks and albums for both OM and Naked Music. This includes an installment of House of OM. His track begins with crisp drumbeats, scratches and a sample repeating, before an effect sweeps in. It’s a track that takes hip hop as its basis, and combines a mixture of beats, samples and scratches with guitar, bass and drums. Here, effects feature heavily, giving the track a space age sound, as if belonging in some as yet, unmade sci-fi film. During the track squelchy synths sweep in, accompanying the scratches, samples and beats brilliantly. Although just three minutes long, it’s intriguing and melodic, and you can’t second guess Andy, never knowing where the track is heading.

Piano Grand by Tony D is a track that is similar to the Andy Caldwell track. Again, it has a hip hop influence, and shares the same tempo to his track. This is why it follows Andy’s track, as it seamlessly mixes into it. It opens with a crackly, repetitive sample and scratches, while waves of echoey synths sweep in, introducing a lovely melodic piano led track, which features strings, lush and sweet. Atop that melody, sits a spoken word sample, and they’re accompanied by crisp, crunchy beats. The combination of the piano led melody and beats has almost a hypnotic effect, mainly because of what’s a beautiful contrast. Strings and piano courtesy of the melody and crisp, crunchy urban beats, together, they produce a track that mixes the old and new perfectly, made all the better, by a beautiful melodic piano and lush strings. 

If I Fall (Jay’s Urban Dub) by Naked Music NYC is a track that may be familiar to people like me, who are fans of the Naked Music label. Various versions of this track have featured on several of the Naked Music albums, and although quite an old track now, it’s still as good. The tempo is slightly quicker than the two previous tracks, but has a more “soulful house” sound, in among the hip hop. Drums and synth combine as the track opens, and straight away, the lush vocal kicks in. It sits in the background, and is surrounded by various scratches, samples, synth lines, backing vocals and crisp crunchy beats. Effects are used to transform the sound, echo, delay and filter. This mix is quite different mix, one with a much more hip hop influence. However, this doesn’t stop the track’s brilliance from shining through. Personally, this version transforms the track, almost deconstructs and then reconstructs it. In doing so, it produces another great version of what is a classic track from Naked Music, and one of my personal favorites from that label.

Earlier I asked whether Mark could keep up the quality of Volume 1 on Volume 2, and my answer is a resounding yes. Not only did he manage this, but he produced a compilation that moved the music in a different direction, with slightly quicker tracks. In doing so, he kept up the quality and introduced many more artists to the people who bought this series. The compilation features tracks by many well known artists, and like Volume 1, features music that will appeal to a large number of people. However, what direction would Volume 3 take, and would it be as good as the first two volumes? Standout Tracks: Sandworms by Andy Caldwell vs Darkhorse, Piano Grand by Tony D and If I Fall (Jay’s Urban Dub) by Naked Music NYC.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 2.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 3.

Unlike Volume 2, there was a three year interval between the next volume being released. Mushroom Jazz Volume 3 wasn’t released until 2001. Mark wasn’t one of those compilers who rushed out a new volume every year. Instead, it was about quality, and licensing the tracks he wanted, rather than just release what was available. He should be admired for this, and in doing so, was making sure that the quality of music on the compilation wouldn’t be compromised. On Volume 3, he decided to return to the downtempo music of the first compilation, with the tempo ranging from 94 to 170 beats per minute. However, would the music on it compare favorably to either Volumes 1 or 2?

De La Bass Mousse T. Def Mix) by Raw Instinct is my first choice from the album, and is a track that mixes elements of jazz and hip hop. It begins with a guitar brightly chiming, in a jazz style with crisp, crunchy drumbeats and a lovely crackly sound that sounds like old and worn vinyl. After that, a loud, confident vocal that’s half-spoken, half-sung enters. Accompanying it, are a mixture of old and new, jazz and hip hop. Old and jazz is represented by an organ, guitar and trumpet, while hip is represented by scratches, samples and the crunchiest of drumbeats. Together they combine masterfully, producing a downtempo track par excellence, which is a fusion of two musical genres, albeit ones that are distant relations.

Relax Your Mind by DJ Presto is a track that’s just slightly quicker than the previous track, and like the previous track, relies heavily upon scratches and samples. Again it’s a fusion of styles, with a melodic sweeping sound opening the track. It’s a mixture, of scratches, vocal samples and drumbeats, which are accompanied by keyboards and brass section which produce a dramatic arrangement. A combination of vocals and vocal samples are used, making an intriguing track where you never know what will happen next. One thing that really makes this track, is that when a hook appears, it’s repeated constantly, but you never tire of it. By the end it’s as familiar as an old friend. Together with a lovely warm sound, and an intriguing combination of samples, scratches and instruments, it’s one of this volume’s highlights.

Jazz Cop (LP Mix Version) by Gripper, is my final track from this compilation. It’s a track that opens with scratches, samples and drumbeats combining with occasional snatches of brass, synths and a range of vocals. Samples and instruments appear, disappear and reappear during the track. A myriad of samples, scratches effects and crisp and sharp beats, accompany an almost grandiose sweeping string and led arrangement. It quickly disappears and reappears, giving way to a guitar and flute, and yet more samples. So much is going on, that you’re constantly trying to keep track, with vocal echoey, shooting high into the arrangement. Although it isn’t a quick track, the echoey vocals and spacey sound, make it seem quicker. However, by the end, Gripper has created a fascinating and melodic track, one that fuses, hip hop, trip hop with jazz magnificently. 

Mushroom Jazz Volume 3 saw Mark return to the downtempo sound of Volume 1. In doing so, it was a triumph, picking a brilliant selection of tracks. Each of the nineteen tracks on the compilation are of the highest standard, and like Volume 1, there isn’t one bad track. This compilation of downtempo tracks, was totally different from most of the other so-called downtempo compilations. Instead, this was innovative, offered something new and fresh. Like the first volume, Mark’s mixing is seamless and he knits the tracks together brilliantly demonstrating his skill as a DJ. After three great volumes of Mushroom Jazz, where did the series go from here. Standout Tracks: De La Bass Mousse T. Def Mix) by Raw Instinct, Relax Your Mind by DJ Presto and Jazz Cop (LP Mix Version) by Gripper.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 3.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 4.

Mushroom Jazz Volume 4 arrived in 2002, a year after the previous volume. Again, Mark decided to change the musical direction of the series, using his home city of Chicago as his inspiration. This volume featured hip hop, and deeper yet groovier rhythms. Although, trip hop, hip hop and downtempo music all can be found on the compilation, what people wondered, was after four volumes, was the series still as good?

Truth In Position by Maspyke is my first choice from Volume 4, and it’s a track that fuses hip hop with elements of jazz. It opens with a double bass playing, accompanied by crunching drumbeats, vocal samples and keyboards adding a dramatic atmosphere. There’s a darkness present, an eeriness caused by the way the keyboards, samples and beats combine with the bass and percussion. The track sweeps along, various spoken word samples appearing, and together with the keyboards, bass and percussion they combine perfectly, producing a track that’s dark and eery, and belongs in a modern horror film. Play this, and I for one, won’t dare look behind the sofa.

Keep Your Head Up by Laurnea is the complete opposite to the previous track. It features a light and melodic female vocal, accompanied by drumbeats that are crisp and loud, scratches, keyboards and a myriad of effects. Here, the arrangement is quite loud at the start, compared to the vocal, and sometimes, the vocal is slightly dwarfed. During the track, the vocal is accompanied by crackles, scratches and samples, with backing vocals, bass and beats completing the line-up. During the track, filter is used on the vocal, meaning it’s masked. This is only briefly and doesn’t spoil what is a beautiful, melodic and sweet vocal. The arrangement is perfect for the vocal, with elements of hip hop providing the perfect contrast. Overall, it’s easily one of the album’s highlights, and quite different from many of the tracks on Volume 4.

Original Beats by DJ Slave begins with beats that’s are slightly muted, accompanied  by snatches of synth and brass, before a spoken word sample enters. It’s surrounded by sound effects, handclaps and is joined by more spoken word samples, synths and beats. Filter is used again, this time muting the synths and samples. Here, the choice of samples is perfect. They vary from space age, eery to humorous. Combined with sweeping synths, drumbeats and sound effects, DJ Slave produces a track that’s flows along gently, always keeping your interest and foot tapping and occasionally, making you smile.  

Mushroom Jazz Volume 4 kept up the quality of the three previous volumes. Here, Mark has focused on hip hop for many of the tracks, but in doing so, has managed to select some of the best tracks around. There is more to this track than hip hop though, and other tracks vary in style and tempo, ensuring that there is something to suit all musical tastes. What’s remarkable about this series, is that after four volumes, the quality is just as high, and unlike other compilations that were around at this time, it showed no sign of becoming stale or complacent. However, could Mark keep this up when Volume 5 was released? Standout Tracks: Truth In Position by Maspyke, Keep Your Head Up by Laurnea and Original Beats by DJ Slave.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 4.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 5.

There was a gap of three years before Mushroom Jazz Volume 5 was released by Mark Farina in 2005. Like Volume 3, he was neither willing to rush, nor compromise quality when it came to the series. On this volume, Mark combined hip hop, trip hop and downtempo music, choosing twenty-one of the best tracks he could find. However, after waiting three years for Volume 5, would it be worth the wait?

The Tribute by Colossus is my first choice from Volume 5, and begins with a saxophone repeatedly playing, accompanying by scratches, drumbeats, samples and rap over the arrangement. It’s a track, that mixes elements of jazz with hip hop in a track, that is brilliantly repetitive, melodic and totally intriguing. Like similar tracks, you’ve no idea what will happen next. It could be a snatch of a jazz piano playing, a scratch, sample or synth that you hear. The rap name-checks some of the greats of jazz, and during the track, elements of it pay homage to giants like Cab Calloway. A number of samples are used, accompanied by the jazz piano, and each one has been well chosen, fitting together brilliantly like jigsaw pieces. Overall, it’s a great track, that mixes jazz and hip hop brilliantly.

Cali Spaces by Mark Farina is a track that combines house beats with hip hop. It begins with a vocal accompanied by drum beats and a melodic keyboard line. Handclaps and percussion can be heard, as the arrangement builds up, but mostly, it’s beats and keyboards that feature. Scratches are thrown in, later, and as applause can be heard, it’s a good time, party atmosphere that’s being enjoyed while the track’s recorded. On this track, the beats are much more rounded, neither crisp nor booming, and together with a melodic arrangement and almost hypnotic, repetitive but joyous vocal, it’s a potent and brilliant combination. It’s fitting that one of the best tracks on the album is supplied by Mark Farina, the mastermind behind the Mushroom Jazz series.

Hollywood by DJ Dez is one of the shortest tracks on the album, but what it lacks in time, it makes up in quality. Crisp drums and joyous female vocal open the track, with filter used on the vocal, as the drums get louder, with synths interjecting. Even through the filter, the joyous vocal shines through. What’s different on this track is how few instruments feature. Mostly it’s just the drums and vocal, with occasional and sometimes brief contributions from keyboards and synths. However, the track doesn’t suffer for that, and although just a short track, it’s one where the joyousness shines through brilliantly.

Although Mushroom Jazz was five volumes old, the quality of the music and mixing hadn’t suffered. As usual, Mark had chosen some of the best tracks he could lay his hands on. Twenty-one tracks featured on this album, and they featured a variety of music that crossed the musical genres. Hip hop, trip hop and downtempo grooves all sat side by side, with elements of house, jazz, soul and funk present within the tracks. So after five volumes, Mark still had the midas touch, and the three year wait was worth it, to hear such a great compilation. However, after five volumes of Mushroom Jazz, where would the series go from here, and would releasing another volume be one too many? Standout Tracks: The Tribute by Colossus, Cali Spaces by Mark Farina and Hollywood by DJ Dez. 

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 5.

 MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 6.

Mark delivered what would be his last volume of Mushroom Jazz for OM Records in 2008. After Mushroom Jazz Volume 6, the next volume would be released on the Mri-Red label. On Volume 6, he combined hip hop, trip hop downtempo beats and jazz influenced tracks. This is an intriguing and wide ranging mixture of music, and Mark picked another of the best twenty tracks he could find. However, would his final volume of Mushroom Jazz Volume 6, be as good as the five previous volumes? 

Fool’s Competition by Smooth Current opens with what sounds like a party going on in the studio. It’s an uptempo track, one that mixes jazz and hip hop. A guitar, brightly chiming, and dull, but quick, bass play, while crisp beats accompany it. Samples can be heard, with the occasional scratch accompanying, the quick jazz laden arrangement. This combination of hip hop and jazz works really well, and the addition of the samples, which drift in and out of the arrangement, combine to make this a fantastic track, easily one of the album’s highlights.

Groovin’ by Kero One is another track that features a bass and guitar accompanying drumbeats, and like the previous track, sees a fusion of jazz and hip hop. As the track progresses, another bright guitar solo plays, accompanied by bass, keyboards  and organ. Jazz drums can be heard briefly, while the drumbeats, crispy and fast provide a contemporary accompaniment. The beauty of this track is that it marries together one of the oldest styles of music jazz, with one of the newer ones hip hop, and in doing so creates a track that sounds modern and contemporary. Not only that, but it’s also a track that sounds great, and is quick and catchy. 

Wasn’t Really Worth My Time by Flash opens with a melodic, sweet vocal, crisp sounding, quick beats combining with snatches of brass, synths and even a flute. The vocal sits proudly at the front of the mix, while behind it a myriad of instruments and samples contribute to the arrangement. Each instrument or sample seems to be introduced at the right time and together, they help make this easily one of the most melodic tracks on the album. However, what really lifts this track to the next level, is the vocal. It’s outstanding, sweet and melodic, yet loud and clear, making this such a fantastic track. 

Like the previous five volumes, Mark kept up the quality on what was his final installments of his Mushroom Jazz series for OM Records. Volume 6 was a fitting end to his time with OM, and featured twenty great tracks. What was so good about this compilation, was the variety of music on the album. There was everything from hip hop to trip hop, and downtempo beats to jazz influenced tracks. This wide range of music, mixed brilliantly by Mark ensured that he kept up the high quality of the five previous volumes. Standout Tracks: Fool’s Competition by Smooth Current, Groovin’ by Kero One and Wasn’t Really Worth My Time by Flash.

MUSHROOM JAZZ VOLUME 6.

Mushroom Jazz Six

Between 1996 and 2008, Mark Farina released six volumes of Mushroom Jazz. Over these six volumes, Mark kept up the quality, with Volume 6 as good as Volume 1. During the twelve year period, he never once let his standards slip. The Mushroom Jazz series outlasted and outsold many of his competitors. Much of the success of this series was Mark constantly changing the musical style. He wasn’t willing to just release album after album of the same type of music. No, he wanted to remain innovative, always freshening up the musical style. Unlike other compilations, Mushroom Jazz never became stale, because of Mark’s willingness and decision to change the music policy. Since Volume 1 was released, I’ve always loved this compilation series. One of the attractions is the eclectic choice of music on each album. Hip hop, trip hop, downtempo and jazz influenced music sit side by side, on these six volumes. If you’ve never heard any of the Mushroom Jazz compilations, and like any of the aforementioned musical styles, then these albums are a must-have for you. Should you be a fan of OM Records, but not heard these albums, I would throughly recommend them. Mushroom Jazz, like all the albums released by OM Records, are full of quality music, compiled by Mark Farina, one of the hardest workingmen in dance music.

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