A gem from 1998, which was not a vintage year for downtempo. The Bristol sound was mostly spent, despite a valedictory coda in Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Ninja Tune was changing direction to take in the likes of Chocolate Weasel’s kitsch-funk. And the trip-hop template was fast becoming coffee-table music turned out by insipid second-raters like Thievery Corporation and Morcheeba.
But this is a cracking album from Waiwan, in part because it outlines the state of the art thus far. The thunderous timpani that open “The Deep” flag the genre’s cinematic influences. What follows — the well-tempered vocal snatches, washy electric piano and clipped wah-wah — inaugurate an album of uncrowded dubby trip-hop, which wears its influences on its sleeve. “Ain’t Easy” consciously apes Massive Attack’s “Better Things”, with it’s almost identical bass figure and reverb-swallowed drums. “Yesterday”, with a clipped snyth anticipating the backbeat, echoes the somnolent mood of Coldcut’s “Eine Kleine Hed Musick”. The album’s closer, “Revenge”, finishes out the cinematic feel, setting angular string progressions against ominous bells, metallic clangs and distant sirens.
There’s a sunny feel to it, too, with occasional clipped sax riffs recalling Pete Rock’s early-90s horn riffs. Brittle, jangled piano figures on “The Deep” and “Ain’t Easy” suggest the dusky vibe of the Isley’s “Summer Breeze” or Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness” (a reference more explicit in the rising snyth sounds of “Filtered Funk”).
The jazzy stretch in the middle of the album may be a little too smooth, though “Goddess” is hailed as an early classic of the Nu-Jazz scene. But “Nightmare”, its booming double bass figure amid drum & bass-influenced breakbeats, treads a path being taken at the same time by Red Snapper (and later tarmaced with bus lanes and parking bays by The Cinematic Orchestra).
Waiwan was apparently part of the Common Ground project that released one album on Ultimate Dilemma. A new Waiwan album is apparently imminent from Earth Project, though the audio clips suggest that his jazz-funk-fusion roots may have got the better of him. I suppose that means his old site at Autonomy isn’t going to get updated (so much for the five-album deal, huh?), but you can still catch plenty of audio clips there.