Sharps & Flats

The three-disc "Points of Light" comp flies off to an expansive, airy space -- somewhere between jungle, jazz-fusion and outer space.

Topics: Music,

It’s unfair that trance music, currently the most popular dance genre, has such a strong hold on the name. No disrespect to Day-Glo gypsy pants or melodramatic music that peaks and peaks like a never-ending acid trip, but the term “trance” should be available to each and every genre of electronic music, provided that the sound is hypnotic enough. Besides, when all forms of dance music are boiled down to their bare minimum, only rhythm and bass remain; repetitive percussion and low bass frequencies are what send listeners and dancers into far-off states. That said, the “Points in Time” series is nothing less than top-notch trance music — except that it’s pure drum ‘n’ bass.

The triple-CD compilation tracks the progression of atmospheric or jazzy drum ‘n’ bass, a chill-out style innovated by U.K. producer and Good Looking record label founder LTJ Bukem. The collection spans four years, from 1993 to 1997, and includes tracks from the likes of Bukem, Seba, Big Bud, Blame, PHD and Blu Mar Ten. But it’s really Bukem’s seductive music and influence that play the loudest. His style is nothing like the harder and more popular tech-step or jump-up versions of drum ‘n’ bass. Instead, he lightens the aggressive edge of the break beats with gently ticking drums, warm keyboards and Orb-inspired synth pads, juxtaposing arrhythmic ambient noises against crisp breaks. The effect brings listeners to an expansive, airy place, somewhere between jungle, jazz-fusion and outer space.

Bukem, a classically trained pianist and jazz and soul fan, delved into the late-’80s U.K. rave scene as a DJ. In 1990, he produced his first single, a hardcore break-beat track titled “Logical Progression.” Three years later, Bukem officially split from the increasingly commercialized and roughneck side of break-beat jungle with “Music,” an otherworldly eight minutes of sharp staccato rhythms and expansive ambient and string compositions. “Music,” which is included in the compilation, solidified Bukem’s reputation as a purveyor of a more sophisticated sound and inspired a contentious new description: “intelligent drum ‘n’ bass.” Other songs on the series share Bukem’s aesthetic, including Parallel World’s “Contagious,” an ethereal sputtering of beats and symphonic tones, and Seba & Lotek’s “So Long,” a euphoric dance-floor riser dotted with bittersweet melodies and clean, sparse breaks.

Hearing all 27 tracks at once is a dizzying, trancelike experience. The assertive forward motion of the break beats lures listeners into rhythmic submission, while the spacious ambient and jazz elements distract and delight. Consider “Points in Time” a chronology of an innovative sound and a journey into a peaceful mind warp.

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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