Ahead of their visit to Leeds to host HiFi for Bugalu at the end of the month, we got a chance to speak to Pete Reilly from Soul Jazz. In charge of organising the mastering as well as being involved in putting together some of the compilations, he has been doing this as well as organising their parties, since joining the imprint in 1995. He talked us through what the re-issue and compilation-based label is all about, and how they approach playing a DJ set.
He will be manning the decks alongside Scott Bethell, who is another long serving member of the team. With a hugely diverse number of compilations under their belt since being founded in the early 90s, Reilly outlines how the kind of set they play largely depends on the promoter booking them.
“It depends on the event, often we get asked to play a 100% Dynamite/Studio One style reggae set when we’d have Ox, our MC with us. Other times promoters will book us to play a funk set, or anything from disco, to Brazilian to punk. At HiFi we’ll be playing a party mash up of all kinds of stuff – reggae, funk, soul, disco, Brazilian, maybe a few hip hop tunes. And a bit of Latin, especially as the night’s called Bugalu”.
As their catalogue features some jazz re-issues which figure as some of my personal favourites, I cautiously noted that there probably wasn’t too great a chance of hearing any deep spiritual jazz stylings of the likes of Pharoah Sanders on the night, and Reilly wasn’t so sure about the prospect.
“You sound disappointed – would you like to hear Pharoah Sanders and Michael White on a Saturday night then?! Respect, but I fear you might be on your own there,” he replied.
“If we’ve been asked to play a jazz set then we may well play Pharoah Sanders and Michael White but at a club such as the HiFi even though the people there like a broad range of music I can’t imagine there’s many who want to hear a really heavy 18 minute long jazz track, especially on a Saturday night”. A fair point. While those re-issues may rank among my favourites, it’s the 100% Dynamite compilations which he looks upon as being a personal highlight while working at the label.
“They introduced a lot of people to reggae and changed many peoples’ perceptions about the music. A lot of people over the years have told us ‘I thought I hated reggae until I heard your Dynamite albums’, and that’s great to hear and is a big reason for why we do what we do.” He also went on to pick out the music they’ve released from New Orleans. “All the music from there I’m particularly proud of too. So much great music has come out of that city.”
I asked him to try and define what it is that they look for in choosing what to release, or whether it’s possible to characterise what it is that the label aims to do, given that the range of what they release is so broad – ranging from recent acid house compilations to punk and 1960’s bossa nova re-issues. “I suppose for the most part of the defining characteristic of what we do is that it’s not mainstream music. We’re looking for those great tunes for whatever reason fell through the cracks”.
“We also like it if there’s a story to tell, and most of our albums focus on a particular genre or scene at a specific point in time. Our next release is called Gipsy Rhumba and it’s a compilation of tracks recorded in Catalonia in Spain where in the 60s and early 70s they were fusing traditional flamenco music with rock, jazz and other more modern forms of music. They were trying to do this while living under Franco’s extremely repressive dictatorship so it’s an interesting and unique story”.