2012 is shap­ing up to be a big year for Philly Soul fans.  The leg­endary Philadelphia International Records label is cel­e­brat­ing its 40-year anniver­sary and has teamed up with Harmless Records to release a vari­ety of reis­sues that pay trib­ute to the sat­in-soul her­itage it cre­at­ed dur­ing its glo­ry years in the 1970’s and ear­ly 1980’s.  Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is the first release in this series and it’s a dar­ing col­lec­tion that bypass­es the usu­al “col­lect the stan­dards” approach to cre­ate a release that forges a link between clas­sic Philly soul and today’s d.j.-driven dance music scene.

Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits offers a very per­son­al take on what makes Philly Soul great by allow­ing an inter­na­tion­al col­lec­tion of d.j.‘s to rework a vari­ety of tracks from the Philadelphia International archives.  To the cred­it of com­pil­ers Jay Negron and Ian Dewhirst, they didn’t go for the expect­ed “remix the hits” approach.  There are a few stan­dard-bear­ers here but the real focus is the deep cat­a­log stuff that crate-dig­ging afi­ciona­dos obsess over.  For exam­ple, cult faves like Jean Carn and the Jones Girls are high­light­ed no less than three times each on this set.

This set also embraces a vari­ety of approach­es to the mate­ri­al.  Despite the set’s title, re-edits aren’t the only thing that is going on here.  In fact, there are a hand­ful of cuts that add new pro­duc­tion, includ­ing new rhythm tracks and a vari­ety of mix­ing effects, to the selec­tions.  For exam­ple, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Be For Real” is trans­formed by Tim McAllister from a moody bal­lad into an uptem­po house music dance­fest while The Noodleman uses a bar­rage of dub-style echo effects to rework McFadden & Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now” so it ceas­es to be a dis­co step­per and instead becomes a ver­i­ta­ble roller­coast­er of spacey peaks and val­leys.

Occasionally, there is a moment of over­reach on the­se rad­i­cal rework­ings — for instance, DJ Friction’s redux of the Jones Girls’ “Dance Turned Into Romance” over­does some trip­py vocal re-edits dur­ing the cho­rus — but the major­i­ty of the­se gen­re-ben­ders hit the right blend of adding the new and respect­ing the vin­tage.  Perhaps the best exam­ple of this approach is the Deep&Disco rework of The O’Jays’ “Darling Darling Baby”: a clas­sic Philly Soul bal­lad is sub­tly revised with an inspired use of echo and some beat-chop­ping to cre­ate a psy­che­deli­cized hi-tech won­der.  It sounds clas­si­cal­ly soul­ful and breath­tak­ing­ly mod­ern all at once, which is the ide­al achieve­ment for an exper­i­ment like this.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits presents cuts that adhere closer to the re-edit tem­plate but add in a mod­ern remix touch or two.  For exam­ple, DJ Apt One’s re-edit of “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sticks close the track of the epic orig­i­nal but gives it a nice “book­ends” effect by open­ing and clos­ing it with a stripped-down intro that adds a slight bit of echo to the vocals.  Another strong entry in this style is Todd Terje’s take on the Dee Dee Sharp Gamble favorite “Easy Money”: the sweet, mel­low-jazz funk fla­vor of the orig­i­nal track is high­light­ed but he adds in a killer dub-heavy per­cus­sion break that is tai­lor-made for a mod­ern dance floor’s needs.

That said, the remain­ing half of Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is devot­ed to clas­sic-style re-edits that mix things up with­out any remix-style retouch­ing of the orig­i­nal record­ings.  For exam­ple, a D.J. who goes by the name Morning Star goes the Tom Moulton route and turns in a trio of re-edits that extend the Philly groove with­out call­ing atten­tion to its edits: the best of the­se is prob­a­bly a re-edit of Jean Carn’s “If You Wanna Go Back” that seam­less­ly expands the Latin-style rhythm with­out overex­tend­ing the melody.  Jimmy The Twin’s re-edit of “Message In Our Music” by the O’Jays is anoth­er gem in this vein, a 9-min­ute epic that takes adven­ture of the rich, acoustic tex­tures of the orig­i­nal cut with­out wear­ing out its wel­come.

Finally, it should be not­ed that there are edits here that show an adven­tur­ous touch with­out ever aban­don­ing the orig­i­nal ele­ments: DJ Mila’s take on Dexter Wansel’s “Life On Mars” strips down the original’s atmos­pher­ic niceties to iso­late its relent­less jazz-funk core while a hard-dri­ving take on Billy Paul’s “Only The Strong Survive” by J*Ski (a.k.a. com­pil­er Jay Negron) focus­es on Paul’s between-verse vamp­ing and some adven­tur­ous horn work to cre­ate a real barn­stormer of a pure-dance track.  It’s kind of like a Walter Gibbons remix, only it focus­es on the brass sec­tion for its per­cus­sive dri­ve instead of the drums.

All in all, Philadelphia International — The Re-Edits is a gen­er­ous set that applies a mod­ern spir­it of adven­ture to clas­sic grooves with­out los­ing sight of the musi­cal­i­ty and sweet­ness that made the orig­i­nal ver­sions so spe­cial to soul music fans.  Some of the flour­ish­es may be a bit wild for the purists out the open-mind­ed will quick­ly hear that there is some­thing here for every­one — and all the inclu­sions reflect the “love is the mes­sage” ethos of Philly Soul.