Review: 'The Tempest' - The Strictly Jaz Unit
When the two names ‘Boo Williams’ and ‘Glenn Underground’ are muttered within the Chicago house circles, very few wouldn’t recognise the names that belong to two iconic DJs who have dominated the Chicago house scene for the past 30 years.
Glenn Underground, born and raised in Chicago and inspired by the likes of Larry Heard, Ron Hardy and Lil’ Louis, is one of the most prolific house music creators of his generation. His album ‘Atmosfear’ is hailed as a classic house record and highly respected piece of art, containing tracks such as ‘Israelee Night Falls’ and ‘Colouration’. Boo Williams on the other hand has consistently gone above and beyond to prove himself as one of the most influential Chicago DJs of today – boasting a hefty discography released through labels such as Cajual, Djax, Rush Hour and Relief Records. Together, the two have ruled over the Windy City as The Strictly Jaz Unit – a group tasked with creating some of the deepest and soul lifting house music in history, time and time again delivering on that goal.
‘The Tempest’ – the duo’s first – and possibly last – album since 1996, proves to the world once again why The Strictly Jaz Unit should be remembered. The 8-track double LP is a collection of musically rich, deeply textural and sonically cohesive cuts with an attention to detail that is only achievable by masters of the craft. Whilst ‘Tempestous’ – the album opener – is one of the more quiet and diluted tracks on the record with it’s breakbeat-esque snare and flickering, cosmic lead, the 8-minute slow burner does a proper job at setting the scene for the soul-filled, groovy tracks to come.
‘Near The End’ follows with a deep, chopped cut of a choir singing, which coupled with the urgent, anxious drums provides a feeling of tension and uncertainty. As the track progresses and a beautifully crafted moog keyboard cuts through the mix, performing a heartfelt and soulful solo reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s work. It’s obvious that this record is a labour of love for the duo – using tracks to express their feelings regarding their 30-year career together, as well as uncertainty and scepticism about the future. Whilst ‘Near The End’ is a powerful set opener with its foreshadowing of zeal, the track seems to begs a question going through the two producers’ heads – ‘we’ve had an amazing history together, now where do we go from here? Or are we near the end?’
One of the most standout tracks on the record ‘Time of Speed, Not Day’ exhibits the true power of Glenn Underground and Boo Williams. The booming bass and bright lead that bring cadence to the track, along with the haunting, celestial chorus would captivate the dance floor just as much as it provides a dramatic, euphonious at-home listen.
‘The Struggle’ is a solid, club-ready tune built around a firm, booming bassline and bright, tasty clap, that indicates the double LP is in full swing. ‘Heard Syndrome’ pays homage to the Chicago legend Larry Heard through it’s clanging, reverberated keys and full-bodied pads that suggests the duo have suffered from a bit of ‘Heard Syndrome’ themselves whilst making the track. The phasing triplet bassline and high-pitched strings reminiscent of 80s house tracks echoing until the final few seconds of the cut, before the much more modern, eclectic ‘That Hour’ brings us back to the present. Glenn’s iconic, melancholy keys provide a backing whilst his signature choppy pads bounce around the mix and a catchy 4 bar bass turn the track into a true Glenn Underground track – able to provide a sense of tranquillity whilst keeping the track a real upbeat toe-tapper.
The final two tracks – ‘The Flat (London Projects)’ and ‘Passing You By’ again exhibits how Strictly Jaz Unit are able to keep their sound fresh – reinventing the sounds they used to define the 90s, and implementing them into a modern setting with fresher grooves, better sound design and all-round innovation.
The Strictly Jaz Unit’s double LP is undeniably a beautiful collection of tracks that use the most defining elements of Chicago house to ensure the city’s sound is still relevant. The album highlights the true genius of Glenn and Boo, their production skills and their ability to make truly soulful jams. Whilst the album takes a few tracks to warm up – and is almost over before it has begun, ‘The Tempest’ contains some professionally-crafted deep house that are bound to find its way into a DJ’s rotation for the years to come.
The Tempest drops on wax tomorrow. Preorders available through Juno.
Digital release of the album is July 1st.