Mr Scruff and the Big Chill have been virtually inseparable since the club-turned-festival’s early days. They both share a musical vision that is wide open to all genres, styles, tempos and tastes with little regard for fashion. As long as the music is creative, inspiring or moving (either physically or emotionally) it is worthy of inclusion. Having been the perfect bed fellows, it is little surprise Stockport’s finest has been chosen to put together this double disc of horizontal soulfulness.
Mr Scruff (real name Andy Carthy) has built his reputation on epic, evolving DJ sets that swallow the world yet somehow retain cohesion throughout. On first listen it becomes apparent that the gradual tempo-rising to the usual rabble-rousing party crescendo is lacking: this is Mr Scruff at his most sedate. Beginning with the simple lazy jazz of Mike Westbrook‘s Metropolis IX then progressing to the melodic backing and impassioned vocals of The Ousmane Kouyate Band‘s N’Nafanta, the tempo stays down and the soul deep as Celestial Blues by Gary Bartz Ntu Troop moseys into earshot. Whether it’s swooning funk (Paul Hunter), jazz-touched lullabies (Takemura Nobukazu), rousing, Latin-influenced Balearica (Treva Whateva) or deep dub workouts (Glen Brown) the onus is on blissful relaxation.
Mr Scruff’s trademark pick and mix of styles continues with funk from Fela Kuti, a loungey cover of Van Morrison‘s Moondance from Grady Tate before D’Angelo helps kick off disc two with a mix of Roy Ayers‘ Everybody Loves The Sunshine, which almost proves even more soulful than the original. There are also many relatively unknown beauties that have been dug up by a DJ obviously devoted to his cause. These include the beautiful lilt of Donald Byrd‘s Kofi and the Motown soul of Odyssey‘s Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love.
At no time does Scruff veer into obvious or clich�d chill out territory. The simplistic downtempo bass of Fingathing‘s You Fly Me sits next to the fuzzy hip hop of G Love & Special Sauce‘s Blues Music and the gorgeously rich orchestral breaks of Held Him First by Deyampert. There are many moments worth losing yourself in: even the offbeat Strangers by Homelife with its Mick Hucknall-esque vocals proves a woozy pleasure. It�s left to the distinctive tones of Bajka on Das Goldene Zeitalter‘s A Vision (the track that led Bonobo to feature the vocalist heavily on his forthcoming long-player) to round things off nicely.
Anyone who has heard Mr Scruff’s epic DJ sets or bought one of his previous mix albums will know that he epitomises eclecticism and may be a little disappointed on hearing this compilation. While it is full of blissed-out tunes perfect for reclining to, it only gives you a slight hint of Mr Scruff’s, and indeed the Big Chill’s, usual wide-open perspective of taking in a broad spectrum of different styles and genres from ambient to house to ska, drum and bass, reggae, folk and electronica.
Mr Scruff’s Big Chill Classics is focussed purely on creating a soundtrack perfect for soaking up a sunny afternoon and ignores the flipside of a night out in the Big Chill’s club tent but the soulfulness it oozes render those shortcomings virtually meaningless by the end of the second disc. While this unmixed compilation of downtempo classics is a missed opportunity for both Mr Scruff and the Big Chill to show newcomers what they are truly all about, you will still be hard pushed to find another downtempo compilation that is this well-rounded.