Many will have first heard the name Will Sessions when they acted as the backing band for Elzhi's 2011 album, Elmatic, a recreation of Nas's classic debut Illmatic. That concept would have likely fallen flat if Elzhi had simply been rapping over the original 1994 instrumentals, but Will Session's replaying of those beats added a level of complexity and craft to the project, moving it from simple tribute to a well-praised work able to stand beyond the original's shadow.
In the years following, the eight-piece Detroit collective of session and schooled musicians have been gigging with a variety of others, occasionally releasing seven-inch singles showcasing their style of funk. Deluxe is an extended repackaging of those singles, independently released through their own Session Sounds and distributed via Fat Beats.
While Will Session's hip-hop associations may have been the introduction to the band, this is strictly a funk album aimed more at break spinners than bar spitters (and also notably less jazzy than their 2010 Kindred EP). Featured vocalists include Florida's Rickey Calloway on three songs, Detroit newcomer Coko, as well as local legend Amp Fiddler, who opens up the album with "In the Ride." The seven-minute groove "Shake It Up, Shake It Down" could easily be mistaken for a back catalogue James Brown cut, while the instrumental "Off the Line," with its near-sawtooth bass line, offers one of the album's most cinematic moments.
The overall sound is both familiar and appropriate. Drums are compressed, dead centre and high in the mix, as they should be. The musicianship is expectedly tight and complex, with horn sections tag-teaming climatic organ riffs, clearing room for flute solos. If the album has any weakness, it's that there is little room for surprises. The team play together with quick precision and enduring energy, rarely dipping below 100 bpm. The Allan Barnes-assisted walking groove "Cherry Juice" is the exception to that rule, its mid-tempo shake allowing the instruments to separate and breathe a little more.
Having out-lived the vintage designation once associated with this brand of funk, it's significant that the automobile references seem earn Deluxe its retro theme more than its soundscape. But this feels less like a new release, more a bat-signal for what's to follow. Session Sounds may very well be the next Daptone Records, able to deliver a steady sound to a variety of vocalists. I suspect no shortage of potential collaborators vying for consideration. (Session Sounds/Fat Beats Records)