1969-1974 was a seminal period in black music. It marked the moment when the jazz of the past met the funk of the present, which would become the hip-hop of the future. Those years fueled the prolific, though short-lived, run of New York based Perception records, a label that managed to represent and integrate those seemingly disparate incarnations of the urban soundtrack as fully and seamlessly as any of its more heralded contemporaries. With the two disc The Best of Perception and Today Records, renowned and eclectic DJ Spinna has compiled a set of the label’s most memorable moments, with enough deep cuts to keep musicologists dissecting well into the the night, and enough bombastic breaks to keep b-boys elbows well-scraped.
The set opens with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie showing that he could funk just as hard as he could swing, laying his vintage free-wheeling trumpet atop a percussive track just as suited to the Blaxploitation soundtracks of the era as to the bebob clubs of Dizzy’s heyday. Hip Hop fans unsure as to why the Fatback Band are so often discussed as forbears to the dominant urban genre of subsequent decades need look no further than the wicked break that sets off “Dance Girl,” later sampled by The Roots. J.J. Barnes’ “You Owe It to Yourself” pulsates with cinematic orchestration evocative of Curtis Mayfield, and nuanced vocal urgency in the mold of Marvin Gaye, raising the question of why, like may of the selections here, it wasn’t a bigger hit in its time.
While it may have been the avant garde flourishes that defined Perception’s legacy, many of this collection’s sweetest pleasures come from the label’s embrace of vintage R&B sounds. The saccharine falsetto and layered vocal harmonies will make Black Ivory’s slow burning “You and I” feel instantly familiar to fans of quiet storm radio, while hip-hop heads will recognize the hypnotic keys as the foundation of Q-Tip’s “Gettin’ Up.” Perception’s teen vocal group The Eight Minutes deliver a Jackson 5-level ballad of unrequited love with “Find the One Who Loves You.” Bobby Rydell’s “Honey Buns” is a bedroom burner for any era.
Despite shining examples that run the sonic spectrum of the time period, Perception never quite delivered the type of larger than life cultural staples that power similar compilations from Motown and Stax. The lack of instantly recognizable melodies, or nostalgia inducing hooks may make this collection a challenge to the attention spans of casual listeners. But, for true fans of ‘70s sounds, or student’s of urban music, nearly every moment of the two hour run time will no doubt be treasured.