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.


.