Masters At Work
Reviewed on this page:
The Album - Nuyorican Soul - Our Time Is Coming
Since the late 1980s, "Little Louie" Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez have been two of New York City dance music's most prominent DJs,
remixers and producers, mostly working together under the name Masters At Work. It's hard to characterize their sound because they work
hard to keep from being pigeonholed, grabbing elements from disco, house, salsa, fusion, techno and Latin hip hop (which is sort of a
misnomer, it's a New York-based form of uptempo synth dance/pop).
Though I usually avoid records that treat DJs as artists, I've ended up with a bunch of their work - mostly because
they've frequently worked with one of my favorite singers, La India, both during and after her marriage to Vega.
And the one album by MAW pseudo-group Nuyorican Soul is definitely worth a listen, regardless of your genre affilations.
Their official site is well-organized and fun, and make sure you visit the message boards.
In 1991, Vega produced and wrote most of Marc Anthony's debut When The Night Is Over - Gonzalez co-produced "Ride On The Rhythm."
The Album (1993)
Sounds like Vega and Gonzalez put this together over a weekend:
a minimalist collage of Latin hip hop and house rhythms with R&B or found samples("The Buddah Chant" is probably the most interesting),
and only a few tracks feature live vocalists. Screechie Dan's rap on "Give It To Me" is clichéd and dull, leaving the record's high
points "Can't Stop The Rhythm," featuring Jocelyn Brown, and Vega's then-wife India's two features,
"When You Touch Me" and especially "I Can't Get No Sleep," where her voice fills up all the space left open by the spare dance groove.
Not much to show for an entire CD's worth of work; though the producers' talents are evident, they're working within very narrow limits,
and (I suspect) overly quickly. Unless you're an India nut (like me), or a DJ looking for material to mix with, you'll probably want to skip this one. (DBW)
The Unreleased Project (Kenny Dope: 1993)
Todd, Louie & Kenny (Todd Terry/Little Louie Vega/Kenny Dope: 1994)
Strictly Rhythm Mix (Little Louie Vega: 1994)
The Tenth Anniversary Collection, Pt. 1: 1990-1995 (rel. 2000)
A 4-disc compilation; I'm listing it because so many of the tracks are otherwise unavailable on album.
Nuyorican Soul (Nuyorican Soul: 1997)
Brown and India are back, but that's the only thing this has in common with Vega & Gonzalez' last album-length project. The goal was to
update 70s soul, salsa and fusion with modern production, and mostly it succeeds brilliantly: Brown belts out an eerie version of the Rotary Connection obscurity "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun"; India's version of the Salsoul hit "Runaway" is stunning; former Salsoul producer Vincent Montana arranges a clever version of Bob James'
"Nautilus." There are also a number of fine originals: Eddie Palmieri contributes a solo meditation ("Taita
Cañeme") and swinging dance track ("Habriendo El Cominante") in the mold of his 70s work; "MAW Latin Blues" featuring Tito Puente,
Charlie Sepulveda and Dave Valentín is fine Latin jazz; Roy Ayers' "Sweet Tears" is the clearest fusion of all the styles represented
on the record, with a patented Ayers vibe part. There are a couple of misfires: Jazzy Jeff's wheels-of-steel showcase doesn't stand up to
repeated listenings, and the Masters' improvised collaboration with George Benson, "You Can Do It (Baby)," is a failed if interesting experiment.
But by and large, this is the kind of record you could play straight through at a dance party without boring anybody. (DBW)
There are a lot of MAW mix compilations, and I can't tell which ones are worth getting.
MAW Records: The Compilation, Vol. 1 (1998)
Includes a remix of India's cover of MSFB's "To Be In Love."
Also this year, India and Nuyorican Soul contributed a cover of Alicia Bridges' "I Love The Nightlife (Disco Round)" to the Last Days Of Disco soundtrack.
In 1999, Masters At Work contributed two tunes to the 24-Hour Woman soundtrack: "When You're A Woman" with Lisa Fischer, and "India Con LaVoe" with, well, India.
The Tenth Anniversary Collection, Pt. 2: 1996-2000 (rel. 2000)
Another 4-disc set, mostly focusing on remixes.
Our Time Is Coming (2002)
Though there are nods to other genres (the reggae toast "Work"), mostly this is "deep house," which translates to "disco with no horns or
strings." There's a parade of guest vocalists including James Ingram, Patti Austin,
Stephanie Mills, Luis Salinas, and some people I don't know: Billie, Lynae, Wunmi. The problem is, Vega and Gonzalez
can't think of anything interesting to do with deep house, so they just keep spinning out
the same percussion mix and bass line (with minor modifications) for minute after minute ("Like A Butterfly (You Send Me)," "Every Now And
Then"). The good news is, there are lots of nice touches: Ayers contributes a vibe solo (title track), Salinas plays lovely Spanish guitar on "Pienso
En Ti," India sings lead on a song she and Vega wrote, "Backfired," and the remake
of Afro-pop legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti's "Expensive Shit" (here titled "MAW Expensive") is a blast, mixing techno keyboards, polyrhythmic
live percussion and splenetic flute soloing.
One of the best arrangements is lavished on the Mills feature, "Latin Lover," which doesn't have much of a melody, but the creative drumming
and crosstalking guitars put it over anyway - it's also comforting to hear that she still sounds so good after keeping a
low profile for the past decade or so.