In the mid-1990s, the very idea of a Moodymann record seemed almost impossibly exciting, arousing a stomach-churning feeling of nervous glee spurred on by the consummate mystery around his music. Today, Moodymann (aka Kenny Dixon Jr.) strikes an avuncular, slightly eccentric figure; elusive but undeniably present. He’s sat down for interviews, has a sporadic presence on social media and has even worked with corporate partners, putting on a roller-skating jam for Red Bull Music Academy and collaborating with Carhartt on a bespoke range of clothing.
Back in the mid ’90s, however, when Moodymann’s records started appearing in record shops outside of his native Detroit, we knew almost nothing of this amazing producer, beyond the slices of sample-house heaven that would appear at erratic intervals on our shelves. We gleaned what we could from the records, which were released on his own KDJ label. But even they proved elusive, with tracks running to different lengths on different pressings and coming with a variety of different edits and mixes — apparently, he would later reveal, because financial constraints prevented him from “changing a bunch of labels”. It was fascinating, brilliant and frustrating, all wrapped up in one funkily enigmatic bundle.
That made ‘Silentintroduction,’ a compilation of some of the best early Moodymann tracks released by Carl Craig’s Planet E label in 1997, a godsend for house music lovers. It was the kind of record you almost couldn’t believe you were allowed to own: 10 tracks from the elusive house master that you could buy in your local record store for a reasonable price, take home and enjoy. Even today, more than 20 years on, I still have the notion I’m not really worthy of owning this record.
‘Silentintroduction’ isn’t exactly an artist album; it’s not a long-playing statement that Dixon necessarily intended to make. (For that, fans would have to wait until 1998’s ‘Mahogany Brown’.) And it isn’t a comprehensive guide to those early KDJ years, either. Each Moodymann fan will have their own early favourite tune that wasn’t included on ‘Silentintroduction,’ with mine being the Marvin Gaye elegy ‘Tribute! (To The Soul We Lost).’ And yet ‘Silentintroduction’ remains a near-perfect initiation into one of house music’s most singular talents, one which displays all of Dixon’s incredible mastery of ambience and mood, played out through a shifting web of samples and effects.
Moodymann is one of those incredibly rare musical talents who can make one and one equal three, a producer who wrings more than seems humanly possible out of a small number of basic ingredients. Take ‘I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits,’ Moodymann’s classic 1996 record and track two on this compilation: There’s almost nothing to it. Bar the moody synth and spoken word intro (of which more later), the song consists of little more than samples — very long samples — from Chic’s monster 1978 hit ‘I Want Your Love,’ along with sustained synth wash and various filters.
Somehow, though, Dixon manages to make something new, deep, and entirely classy out of these well-worn ingredients, looping exactly the right parts of Chic’s disco number for maximum efficiency, weaving them in and out of the mix like a digital bandleader. So well does Dixon use his material, in fact, that when one listens to ‘I Want Your Love’ today it sounds almost wasteful, as if Chic have abandoned their magical musical parts after just one use, when so much more could have been wrung out of them.
Dixon pulls off the same trick time and time again on this album, without it ever getting tiring. ‘Music People’ feels like a perfectly judged homage to the lysergic rush of Mass Production’s ‘Welcome To Our World’ (a staple of Tony Humphries’s sets at Club Zanzibar), while ‘Answer Machine’ definitively answers the question of how to use jazz samples in house music. The song is reverent but not overly so, the production ever so slightly askew in the spirit of jazz swing.