Blue Rondo à la Turk ‘Chewing the Fat’ 2CD deluxe edition (Cherry Red) 4/5

Blue-Rondo-à-la-TurkThis is a nostalgia trip back to the mid-1980s when Sade was just the new kid on the block, Everything But the Girl were still in jazzy/bossa nova mode with their debut album and jazz and pop offered to an increasingly bland and uniform pop scene in the post-punk and post-disco era where synths ruled the day. Blue Rondo à la Turk were created back in 1980 by DJ and founding member Chris Sullivan and fused Latin, bebop jazz, 1970s funk music and with the do-it-yourself indie-rock attitude that permeated much of the alternative music scene at the time and included other groups such as Carmel, Kalima and Matt Bianco. The band’s title is taken from the famous jazz track performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet and was the b-side to the chart topping ‘Take Five’, which is a leading contender for the most heard jazz composition of all time. The first CD focuses on the original album cuts from ‘Chewing the Fat’ plus extended 12″ versions of the hits while the second CD takes matters right up to date with contemporary twenty-first century remixes of the first CD’s music. Old school fans will be happy to find everything they need on the first CD while newer devotees may wish to dip into the mixes that resituate Blue Rondo’s music for a younger audience. For those discovering the band for the very first time, there is much to recommend. The group’s jazz credentials are emphasized on ‘I spy for the F.B.I.’ which has something of a soundtrack feel to it and a memorable bass line with a baritone saxophone solo. Disco fans will be surprised to learn that John Luongo remixed ‘The heavens are crying’ and this instrumental really stretches out and builds up the layers of percussion to great effect with some funk-inflected guitar riffs. Best known of all is the Brazilian-flavoured single ‘Me and Mr Sanchez’ which is heard here in its full-length 12″ version and is based on samba batucada and went out on to become a sizeable hit in Brazil, even serving as a 1982 World Cup campaign for the boys in yellow, green and blue. Latin keyboard riffs plus vocals are a key feature of ‘Coco’ that was a hit across the Channel in mainland Europe as was ‘Carioca’ which was an obvious contender for a single and, with the benefit of hindsight, one wonders why this uplifting groove of a tune was not also a hit in the UK. Interestingly, this combination of Latin grooves and jazzy flavours met with a largely unreceptive audience outside the then emerging underground scene, but during roughly the same period Kid Creole and the Coconuts enjoyed unprecedented success in this country. Perhaps, it was simply a case of the latter being able to commercially package their sound and image whereas Blue Rondo à la Turk were more concerned with the music output and neglected to some extent their pop image. Irrespective, the band were influential and highly respected among other bands for their excellent live performances of the era. Lengthy and informative sleeve notes provide a handy backdrop to the band as they were in their prime, complete with photos, and today.

Tim Stenhouse