Abel ‘Rough Or Smooth’ DIG (Atjazz Record Company) 3/5

This 13-track affair is essentially a deep house release from a producer unknown to this writer but released on Atjazz’s (aka Martin Iveson) own label imprint, the UK-based DJ and producer who has had a long and successful career over the last 20 years within the club based music world. The information provided for the release was rather vague, but Abel was joined by former studio associate Craig James, Atjazz himself and (sporadic) vocalist Marcel Nouveau, who appears on two cuts, but neither are full length vocal recordings but intermittent vocal additions to the featured tracks. And finally, Abel’s seven-year-old son Elliot is included on ‘Tornado’, alongside Marcel. All very deep house.

As is common practice within the deep house community, minor key signatures are in abundance, namely A minor, A# minor and G minor and G# minor – for those that care. This provides a less ‘joyful’ musical context for the listener. And this release doesn’t deviate away from the standard 120 or so beats per minute tempo either, but it does provide a varied palette of sonic colours that are always pleasant. Relatively simple but infectious one or two bar baselines together with infective drum and percussion rhythm tracks, warm synth pads and other synthesised sounds that all successfully gel together well throughout ‘Rough Or Smooth’ (not a great album name though).

Within house music and its many subgenre classifications, albums are less common than in other electronic music forms. This is fundamentally DJ music and sales of albums of this kind or type tend to be relatively low, with individual track purchases on specialist digital dance music retailers such as Beatport and Traxsource more warranted. So are albums of this nature needed? It could be argued that releasing three or four separate EP projects over the course of a six-month period rather than on one single album would be more beneficial financially and strategically. And it is obvious that house music has pretty much ceased in being a place of creative innovation for years, and this is from someone who was buying the first house 12” singles from Chicago in the mid 1980s and still purchases new house records some 30 years later. But that’s not to say that interesting and valid music isn’t being created, but with the sheer volume of new releases each week, it’s difficult for many producers to make their mark, or avoid conforming to the known rules and expectations of the genre, although, this is an issue throughout contemporary popular music.

But Abel’s debut is a solid release. An entire listening experience is probably more appropriate as many of the productions will seem quite ‘samey’ to those outside or unfamiliar with deep house, and so, it’s difficult to pinpoint specific standout tracks. But house music needs a revolution. It needs another Marshall Jefferson, a DJ Pierre, a Todd Terry, a Masters at Work and so on, who can transform and update the genre.

Damian Wilkes