As many of you know, I am a big fan of the ongoing Mushroom Jazz series by San Francisco-based DJ mister Mark Farina. We’re currently up to number seven and I have to say, it may be the best yet!
For the uninitiated, “Mushroom Jazz” is a term that Farina coined as an alternative to “Acid Jazz”. By contrast, Mushroom Jazz is strictly electronic in production, and falls somewhere between triphop, lounge, and downtempo. Farina incorporates a certain amount of hip hop into his compilations as well. The result is a continuous-mix, steady-grooving sound that rarely peaks into what I’d call energetic, but never really dips into mellow territory either. It fits into that narrow range of music that could be appropriate for either a party atmosphere, or just chilling at home by yourself on a Tuesday night. It’s a persistent energy level that rides straight through, great for putting on while you’re getting stuff done, or working on something.
Rewind to several years ago: I discovered the series shortly after the release of installment #4. Upon learning of it, I went back and listened to all the previous ones, which are all great albums by their own merits. My favorite may have been 3, that is until the release of MJ5, which, in my eyes, dominated the rest of the collection. Five was also the most energetic though, and incorporated slightly harder beats with more hip hop, so you may argue that it was a departure from the formula somewhat.
Another commonality amoung the series is the use of repeated and/or related samples sprinkled throughout the whole album, tying it all together. These can be hit or miss. I was talking to Tyrell Williams, a house DJ in Chicago whose opinion I respect, and he said he thought MJ2 was the best, because of the subtlety in the sample work. Having listened to all of them many times, I admit, I find the samples in MJ2 to be overly repetitive, and not that great of a sample selection in the first place. We had to agree to disagree.
The release of six saw me sorely disappointed in Farina. The track selection was just not up to the level he had set in the rest of the entire series. There were maybe two tracks on the whole album that I would say belonged on a MJ record. Disappointing. As my buddy Luke said, “(it) kinda faded into the music collection pretty quick.”
Mushroom Jazz Seven represents a return to form for Farina, with the interspersion of many samples (awesome ones, about mushrooms!) and a bevy of fresh new tracks that fit neatly into his previous canon, while maintaining an excellent groove. I tend to be overly critical when it comes to vocals, and I’m happy to report that only one track on this CD (“Live Forever”) qualifies as “kind of annoying.” On the flip side of that preference, I actually dig the vocals on “Colorblind” and “Stressin.” “Introduce” brings in a nice helping of that MJ5-esque hip hop flavor, and “Living for the Rush” is a nice diversion into a more atypical beat for the MJ series.
The ending track is not as solidly chosen as “Bath Music” from MJ4 or “Nic’s Groove” from MJ5, but Farina does deliver a great sample to close it out: “When this program began the question was, were the claims of the mushroom true, or false? Well for those of us who made the journey, the answer is true.” Nice!
MJ veterans will ask, “but how are the beats?” They are knockin. Probably nothing as hard as MJ5’s “Modern Women’s Short Stories” (the pinnacle of an ‘up’ Mushroom groove, to these ears), but the overall groove on this album is relentless and solid. Those are good adjectives in the context of this series, and although it’s too soon to say for sure, I think this may be the best installment of them all. It’s got great samples, it’s true to the Mushroom Jazz pedigree, there’s a ton of replay value, and the mixing is solid. Track selection is nearly perfect, and the overall atmosphere is right where it should be.
Shortly after the release of 5, I had the good fortune to catch Farina playing a live Mushroom Jazz set at club Zentra in Chicago. I remember him playing the track “Listen” from MJ4 and I could have sworn at the time that there were added drums to kick it up a notch for the live version. It seemed a lot more energetic and dancable. Upon checking out a bootleg of the show afterward, I compared it to the album and there was nothing added! I would love to hear some of the jams from MJ7 in a live venue. I bet it’d be happenin.
Score… hmmm, maybe 8.5/10 (ie. it’s awesome, definitely check it out)