The best exam­ples of any musi­cal gen­re often tran­scend the lim­i­ta­tions of that gen­re because they are craft­ed with lev­els of skill and inspi­ra­tion that lift them into the realm of musi­cal alche­my. For an oft-over­looked but worth­while exam­ple, con­sid­er the case of Boris Midney: this Russian-born jazz musi­cian and arranger took his career to a new lev­el when he began cre­at­ing music for the dis­co boom. Though dis­co is often thought of as mind­less fod­der aimed at mov­ing the feet and lit­tle else, he applied him­self to the gen­re with ambi­tion and far-rang­ing musi­cal abil­i­ty — and the results were often mag­i­cal.

Midney’s work, which includes such mir­ror­ball favorites as the U.S.A. European Connection albums and the dis­co ver­sion of Evita, retains a devot­ed cult in the world of dance music enthu­si­asts. It deserves to heard by more peo­ple and is get­ting a well-deserved revival on CD thanks to the efforts of the Disco Recharge reis­sue series on Harmless Records. Their lat­est Midney remas­ter col­lects mate­ri­al that he record­ed between 1981 and 1982, most of it find­ing release under the stu­dio project names Companion and Double Discovery. No mat­ter what artist name or gen­re label you place on this stuff, it is pure daz­zle for your ears.

Companion:

The Companion album was first released by France’s Barclay Records in 1981. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of work because it keeps one foot in disco’s lush­ly orches­trat­ed past while it places the oth­er in the genre’s min­i­mal­ist, elec­tron­ics-tinged future.

The open­ing track “This Is A Test” defines its style in just under six min­utes: over a bed of slip­pery, con­stant­ly chang­ing rhythms, horns and strings dart in and out of the mix as they duel with jazzy, stac­ca­to snatch­es of vocals that func­tion as anoth­er instru­men­tal tex­ture. Synths are deployed sub­tly for son­ic col­or­ing and to thick­en the bassline. The struc­ture has a cut-and-paste vibe, pulling the lis­ten­er in and out of its sec­tions with roller­coast­er speed. It takes a few spins to real­ly sink in and you’ll be notic­ing new musi­cal frills with each lis­ten.

The remain­der of the album fol­lows this styl­is­tic man­date: “Living Up To Love” is the set’s epic, arrang­ing its sim­ple lay­ers with orches­tral flair: jit­tery cym­bals and chick­en-scratch gui­tar hold down the groove as this mini-epic cruis­es through a vari­ety of move­ments that weave in horns, flute, dreamy sax, swirls of strings and spirit­ed, soul­ful male-female vocal duels. The sec­ond side is bit more mel­low, anchored by the mid-tem­po cruis­ers “Step On Out” and “I Feel Delight.” Between the­se two, there is a sub­stan­tial­ly pared down redux of the old Midney fave “There’s A Way” that retains the strings but short­ens the tune and recasts it in the more inti­mate style that defines this album.

Overall, Companion has the Eurodisco-lev­el ele­gance one asso­ciates with the Midney sound yet is deliv­ered in a pared-down, focused style that ges­tures towards the change tak­ing place in dance music dur­ing the ear­ly ‘80s.

Double Discovery:

The Double Discovery album was a hodge podge in terms of ses­sionog­ra­phy: it com­bined one track designed for this “group” name with a few Midney solo tracks and padded out its run­ning time with a few cuts from Companion. That said, the new tracks includ­ed on it are a trio of gems that found Midney delv­ing fur­ther into the elec­tron­ic era while retain­ing the ele­gance that defined his ear­lier work.

Can He Find Another One” was a col­lab­o­ra­tion with leg­endary D.J. Jim Burgess and it’s a swoon-induc­ing work of dis­co roman­ti­cism. The back­ing track uses a pound­ing, straight­for­ward groove as the basis for a del­i­cate lay­er­ing of key­boards, synths and strings. Unlike the mate­ri­al on Companion, the vocal melody is the melod­ic focus here and it brings a heart-tug­ging warmth to the lyrics’ tale of roman­tic yearn­ing. The vocals are beau­ti­ful­ly arranged, with the lay­ers increas­ing to match the increas­ing emo­tion­al pull of the song. Said vocal melody is also built around an ingra­ti­at­ing vocale­se hook whose per­cus­sive style will instant­ly imbed itself in the listener’s mem­o­ry — and look out for a sur­pris­ing gui­tar and per­cus­sive syn­th instru­men­tal break.

D-D-D-Dance” pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing con­trast to the lush, pop­py con­tours of “Can He Find Another One,” going for an almost pure­ly elec­tron­ic style that blends care­ful­ly lay­ered synths and drum machi­nes with some live per­cus­sion. That said, it nev­er sounds samey or dull: indeed, Midney shows he can use synths as sym­phon­i­cal­ly as he can con­ven­tion­al instru­men­ta­tion and does the same for the vocal arrange­ment. The results have a dub-like qual­i­ty that adds to its hyp­notic pull.

Thanks For Loving Me” returns things to old-school dis­co roman­ti­cism, with an almost Tin Pan Alley-esque vocal melody arranged in a lav­ish way. Midney throws out all the tricks here: jazzy horns, yearn­ing strings, lop­ing per­cus­sion to gen­tly push it along and even a tick­lish vibes hook under the cho­rus. It’s one of his best arrange­ments and Midney’s fre­quent song­writ­ing col­lab­o­ra­tor Katherine Meyer tops it off with an expres­sive lead vocal.

Bonus Material:

As is usu­al with a Disco Recharge release, this 2-disc set is packed with bonus­es. On the Companion disc, you get 12-inch and instru­men­tal ver­sions of “Step On Out” plus the 12-inch mix of “Living Up To Love.” The 12-inch ver­sion of “Step On Out is par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy: it’s actu­al­ly short­er than the album cut, tight­en­ing up the arrange­ment and remix­ing its so the drums are more promi­nent and dance­floor-ready. These sub­tle changes give it a more propul­sive feel.

The disc devot­ed to the Double Discovery and Midney solo mate­ri­al offers no less than three ver­sions of “Can He Find Another One.” The “East Side” and “West Side” ver­sions are what made it to the orig­i­nal album and the major dif­fer­ence seems to be in how the bass line is used: it’s more promi­nent and thumb-pop­ping in the “West Side” ver­sion. The third ver­sion is an instru­men­tal mix that allows the lis­ten­er to savor the intri­ca­cies of the song’s orches­tral and elec­tron­ic lay­er­ing. There’s also a whop­ping five ver­sions of “D-D-D-Dance”: in addi­tion to the album-length cut, there’s an also an instru­men­tal ver­sion, an alter­na­tive mix with a more vocal-inten­sive focus and two short “beats” ver­sions that show­case the per­cus­sive ele­ments of the song. 

All in all, this is anoth­er impres­sive set from Disco Recharge and a tes­ta­ment to the endur­ing qual­i­ty of Midney’s work. If your musi­cal palate is adven­tur­ous enough to include dance fare, the gen­re-defy­ing qual­i­ty of this music will offer plen­ty of rewards.