With deep house master JIMPSTER on the bill, it would have seemed certain to find the Phoenix Landing dance floor packed full Wednesday night. It wasn't. Even at midnight there was openness in the dancing area. Thus the music, when it came, seemed to move across the floor freely; to occupy as much of it as the fans who did show up to see, hear, feel, and taste one of house music's most accomplished track makers prove his chops as a mix-board performer. This he did.
Using only the club's mix-board and its two CD players, and digging richly into his almost two decades of tracks -- including remixes of other DJ's stuff -- Jimpster (whose real name is Jamie Odell, from the UK, the son of Shakatak's Rogher Odell) laid down a dreamy slow rhythm -- 120 bpm, as deep as deep house likes it -- sometimes skimpy delicate, often lullaby lush, occasionally brash and screaming. It was a vocal sound even when purely instrumental; because Jimpster favors fusion-jazz disco and "quiet storm" (as FM radio jocks then called it because so much of that music reflected Smokey Robinson's mood croon with that title) sounds as a starting point, and both fusion and quiet storm were self-effacing, step-back music geared to accompanying a singer. In Jimpster's set, therefore, even when there wasn't a vocal in the mix, the music implied the presence of a voice. Thus the music echoed itself. It had a look-back shape; so does much of the "deep house" genre that Jimpster works in.
Deep house, like its fusion disco and quiet-storm ancestors, is a love-music sound. Dreamy reveries, fly-away happiness, tremors in the melody, follies in the rhythm, gentle touch and feel -- it is all there when house music goes deep, and it was the message in Jimpster's set. "Can't Stop Loving," "Don't Fly Away," the cute "Dangly Panther," "Seduction," the emblematic "Change In You" -- and more -- all made their way across Jimpster's dance floor as with mix-board in his two hands he played the serenading suitor.
At first his serenade presented itself as is, no frills. A mood was established, a love feel, and then the physical in it, as Jimpster cut and sliced the music, layered it, complicated it. He cut from track to track by fade-knobbing one out, the other in -- a radical mix move. He dialed the repeat button, switched basslines from softie to reverb; tooled in chants, talk, some "glitch,' and much soulful diva howls. He imposed distortion on every part of his sound. He twisted the rhythm, bent the b eats, squeezed and extended melodic noise, tooled in vocals of many tones.
It was an 85-minute set only, but every moment of it mattered. There were no flat spots, no missed mixes. So consistent is Jimpster's sound that even when pushed to the edge of its texture limits it has the same verve and look. Thus he could play a loud, steely track like "Seduction" and follow it effectively with more of the softie stuff that is his signature. His softie work has much more complexity than what’s heard on surface, and at Phoenix Landing Jimpster explored the pathways of his soft side through murmuring organ riffs, whisper voices, smooth synthesizer passages, sprightly beats and sighs -- always shifting the components of his sound just as lovers shift in love-making -- and, like a jazz piano soloist in a 1960s Charles Mingus band, even dropping in a few keyboard kicks and some strong funk rhythms which, from time to time, changed from funk to swing. Exactly as you might expect from the creator of "Change In You."
How lovely it was, then, to hear a Jimpster monologue drop say "you can shoot me, you can cut me" toward the end of his set and to hear that followed up by a Dead Can Dance -- yes, Dead Can Dance -- hymn to exotic rapture overtop the music as Jimpster's last word on a set delivered to such a lucky few of the Boston area's house music devotees.
Opening for Jimpster was Phoenix Landing resident Laura DeLuca, who, as DJ D-Lux, has impressed this writer as maybe Boston's most effective deep-house performer. Her set, had I known it at the time, previewed the Dead Can Dance, intoning, Zen chanting sound that summed up Jimpster's set. Even not knowing the reason, I noted what was for D-Lux an intonation quite different from the cool reverb and strong pulsations that characterize her music. Tipped off she certainly was; and it worked.