Atmosfear ‘En Trance’ LP/CD (Mr Bongo) 5/5

Forget Shakatak and even, to a lesser degree Level 42 (Mark King is a brilliant bass player and the group recorded some memorable sides on 12″ and LP, before a career in pop beckoned). Jazz-Funk at the beginning of the 1980s was on the cutting edge with groups such as Freeez and Incognito in their infancy, while Light of the World (and offshoot Beggar and Co) searched for new outlets with new romantic groups such as Spandau Ballet. Other groups such as Central Line and Hi Tension pandered more to the danceable side of funk, but one group that stuck to their independent principles was Atmosfear, who scored a left-field disco hit in the US and UK with ‘Dancing In Outer Space’, yet in their own way were highly experimental in the field of dance music. This outstanding re-issue is long overdue and captures a distinctive moment in time. Who were Atmosfear and why were they not more visible an entity? A key member was Lester J. Batchelor who performed both on bass and various keyboards. Vocalist Tony Antonio doubled up on guitar, while Stewart Cawthorne operated on saxophone.

To this writer’s knowledge, this album was their first and only full length recording, and is supplemented here by the marvellous nine minute plus US disco 12″ version of, ‘Dancing In Outer Space’ along with ‘Xtra Special’ in its full length version. However, the album showcased what a truly versatile band Atmosfear could be and a fine illustration of that is in ‘Duende’, with Spanish castanet and handclaps as percussion, with clipped rhythm guitar and overdubbed horns. Atmosfear liked to incorporate world roots elements into their compositions and on ‘Extract’, the sound steel drums is creatively replicated on synths, with the bass line a layered synth, while the subtlest of Fender Rhodes operate on top. Indeed, the keyboard dominates equally on the lovely, ‘Interplay’, which is a fine demonstration of the group’s musicianship, and yet still be able to create a danceable groove that remains undiminished through time. A prime contender for album winner is ‘Motivation’, with hi-hat cymbal and drum bass intro, before the melodic bass (or is that a synth?) and clipped guitar motif take over the show. Giving this a close run for the top spot is, ‘Invasion’, with a gradual layered build up of sound via the combined use of Fender and synthesizers, and with vocoder-channeled vocals which reinforce their image of being fascinated by time and space. Little wonder that their music was championed by, among others, underground disco DJ David Mancuso. The nearest the group met then contemporary rock innovations was on, ‘Funk The Rock’, with heavy funk-tinged bass and a glorious array of keyboard wizardry, and those vocals that could only have emanated from the UK. An Atmosfear revival is urgently required, with a recent live performance in London, could the rest of the world just possibly see who the group are? That is part of the endearing mystery of a group who deviated from formulaic dance music and created their very own niche.

Tim Stenhouse