Before he moved back East to pursue his MBA, my friend Hakeem used to go out dancing all Saturday night and into Sunday morning. Emerging from the San Francisco after-hours club the End Up flushed and blinking, he'd often head right to Glide Memorial Church across town on a seedy block in the Tenderloin. To someone who didn't know him, such a ritual might seem like one of indulgence, guilt and expiation. But Hakeem is probably the most radiantly happy, least neurotic person I've ever known. For him, dancing to house music and swaying at Glide's Sunday service was all part of a single continuum of celebration, the joy of passionate house music seguing perfectly into the positivity of an uplifting sermon. For him, it was all about being glad to be alive.
Listening to Dimitri from Paris' mix album "A Night at the Playboy Mansion," I was unexpectedly reminded of my friend and his easy transitions from musical rapture to spiritual exultation. I say unexpectedly because Dimitri's first album, "Sacrebleu," was drenched in unctuous irony and lounge kitsch. It was libidinous in a self-aware, leering way -- songs like the fake TV theme song "Dirty Larry" abounded with trhs suave James Bond melodies, while "Un Very Stylish Fille" played with the spun-sugar sounds of '60s ye-ye music.
Given the "Playboy" title and the thank you to "The Boss: Hugh Hefner" in the liner notes, one would expect the new record to be equally redolent of martinis and Cohibas. Instead, the disc is full of genuinely joyful funk and gorgeous, enveloping soul. According to the album's back cover, Dimitri meant to conjure a party at Hefner's where "disco rules around the swimming pool with playmates all over the place. Drinking cocktails barefoot, bathing in the Jacuzzi while watching the stars." He failed -- "A Night at the Playboy Mansion" doesn't feel even faintly heterosexual -- but in the process he made a fantastically open-hearted album.
It leaps easily between the late '90s and the late '70s. The hot horns, scatting female vocals and vaguely Latin rhythms of Astrojazz's delirious 1999 track "The Groove EP" melt into Dimitri's edit of the Originals' 1976 disco hit "Down to Love Town," with its deep bass, bongo beats and dramatic strings. That gives way to 1978 orgasmitron "Shangri-La" by La Pregunta, which, with its horny moaning and female voices cooing, "Paradise is very nice," comes closer than anything else on the album to creating a Hefner vibe. Right after, though, comes a juicy, trippy dub-electro remix of Stetsasonic's 1988 "Talking All That Jazz," thrusting us back into a culture dominated far more by prancing girls, flashy queens and buff gay boys than smarmy playboys.
From there, the record heads straight into effusive disco-house heaven. The intensity builds, releases and then builds again, but the groove remains honey-thick. Towards the end, it's easy to be so transported by the gospel-tinged vocals and warm beats on Black Masses' "Wonderful Person," that the inspirational message about your very own wonderfulness seems almost subliminal. Yes, the sentiment is trite. But shipped along on lush, pumping music, it's the kind of notion that can slip past your defenses and set you all aglow without quite realizing it. It's sensual, not lecherous, and it's life-affirming while you listen to it, even if its meaning dissolves the moment the song's over. "A Night at the Playboy Mansion" is as much a soundtrack for rejoicing as seducing -- sexy, sure, but a little bit spiritual too.