Disco was easily the most producer-driven genre of popular music during the 1970s. As a result, the producers have star-like status amongst genre fans. A variety of names are thrown around when the subject of “who is the best?” comes up but one could easily make the case that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards — collectively known as The Chic Organization — were the most consistent and forward-thinking of the lot. Whether cutting albums for their own group, Chic, or racking up hits for Diana Ross and Sister Sledge, they hit the scene with a fully-formed aesthetic that left the fans wanting more and imitators scrambling to grab a piece of their distinctive mirrorball magic.
And yet, Rodgers and Edwards have never received the kind of retrospective tribute their success deserves: most of their productions have remained in print but no one ever made an attempt to do a comprehensive overview. Thankfully, Rodgers decided to mount this sort of project himself and the result is, for Your Humble Reviewer’s money, the box set of the year.
The Chic Organization, Vol. 1: Savoir Faire is a smartly-assembled set that has a lot to offer fans new and old. Its four discs walk the listener through the many highpoints of the Rodgers/Edwards discography, starting with their first recording as Chic in 1977 — the propulsive, minimalist-yet-lush “Everybody Dance” — to their final album as a group in 1984. Along the way, all the familiar hits for other artists — “We Are Family,” “Upside Down” and “He’s The Greatest Dancer,” to name just three — make an appearance as well as some delightful album cuts that show off Rodgers’ and Edwards’ impeccable blend of musicianship and songwriting savvy.
For those unfamiliar with the Chic sound, Your Humble Reviewer thinks of it as “platinum disco”: the churning relentlessness of funk is polished up with a bit of jazzy complexity (especially in the group vocals) plus string arrangements that harken back to the pre-rock era. As they moved into the 1980’s, the sound became more stripped-down and electronic as Rodgers and Edwards flirted with a more angular, quirky approach that flirted with new wave irreverence. That said, their gift for an elegant melody never deserted them: even when they go for an edgy groove, they are so naturally stylish that you’d swear they sweat Armani cologne.
At this point, it must be noted that The Chic Organization, Vol. 1: Savoir Faire is more than just an expansive hits-and-album-tracks comp. Every cut has been remastered from the original tapes by Rodgers himself so even fans who know every note by heart will be able to hear this set with fresh ears — each song has new sonic depth and the orchestral-tinged glitz is that much brighter. Rodgers has also been careful to include several rare 12-inch versions and longer versions of familiar cuts. Noteworthy examples in this category include a reworking of Chic’s “My Forbidden Lover” that has a punchier intro built on a group-vocal hook lifted from later in the song and a hypnotic 12-inch version of Carly Simon’s “Why” that allows the listener to get lost in its mesmerizing synth-reggae groove.
Even better, there are five new mixes by Dimitri From Paris: if you’ve ever heard DFP’s remix work on stuff from this era, you know he has a reverent, classical style of mixing that blends in nicely with the originals here. His remix of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” has an impressive, symphonic flair but his most impressive work here might be his take on Sister Sledge’s “Thinking Of You,” which bookends the lush, yearning-strings-led groove of the song with a solo burst of ecstatic gospel vocalizing that makes the song inbetween feel like a heavenly dream.
However, the biggest treat on The Chic Organization, Vol. 1: Savoir Faire might be the trio of tracks from Johnny Mathis’s unreleased, Chic Organization-produced album. It’s tragic that Mathis and his management got cold feet about releasing said album because it would have easily been received as his best modern work: the Rodgers/Edwards production pushes the trademark elegance of the Chic sound to the fore and Mathis responds to it with classy, inspired performances. Each of the cuts is a seamless blend of the old and new, with the sprightly vocal gymnastics of “Something To Sing About” being Your Humble Reviewer’s favorite.
If there’s a quibble with this set, it is that the liner notes could have been more expansive: Rodgers contributes a nice yet all too brief essay that touches on Chic’s early days and how the box set came to be but fans will likely regret that there isn’t song by song annotation. That said, it’s the music that matters most and The Chic Organization, Vol. 1: Savoir Faire delivers cut after cut of disco as its most elegant. If you have a serious interest in disco, don’t hesitate to pick this set up.