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Purple Snow: Forecasting The Minneapolis Sound Ned Raggett , November 19th, 2013 08:49

It's been said that jazz is the only original American art form but most days I'd almost be inclined to say funk instead. Maybe because I grew up at a closer distance to it as a 70s kid - I was never constantly surrounded by it, by any means, but you could hear it echoing through the TV shows, the commercials, it was always just there, and it meant more the deeper you went. For its fiftieth formal release in its main series, Numero brought its usual exhaustive, almost near exhausting eye to one place where it hit big among those there, then turned into something altogether unique and itself. An American success story, Horatio Alger replaced by James Brown and George Clinton and many more besides, all refracted through two cities facing other across a river and going “That's nice” when one succeeded at something more than the other. Just ask anyone from Minneapolis or St. Paul about it.

Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound really is in respects 'just' another Numero release, in that it slots into a now well established approach on their part - tasteful presentation, passion present but often suffused in encyclopedic, almost sociological observation, looking at the obscurities, the local stars, those who recorded to make a mark and never hoped or dreamed that mark might get farther than the other side of town. A continuing documentation of America, mostly, and a reminder that it's never the winners who tell the whole tale. Except that in this case the winners are all over this collection, most especially two guys by the name of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who helped back up an outrageously charismatic, talented lead singer in a band by the name of Morris Day, racked up production credits, started working with one Janet Jackson, produced Control for her and from there helped established world domination. Alexander O'Neal is hardly an unknown name either, his immediate, sharp edged singing and charisma giving him his own commercial highs as well by the late 1980s. And have I mentioned another guy of note on here as well, appearing at the end of a slew of yearbook photos early on in the booklet with a gentle smile along with all his other classmates in their 1973 middle school fashions?

Purple Snow gives the game away from the title alone, and you can't not talk about Prince. But he's hardly central to most of what's here, and that's why there's still talk about the Minneapolis Sound above and beyond Mr. Paisley Park. But again - and again, like so much that is Numero - you're not going to come here to find a sudden cache of stellar recordings from performers at the top of their games running riot in the studio and revamping the rules of music. Fits, starts, second tier work, sudden flashes but no more - Prince appears on a few tracks as a quietly competent side performer on organ or guitar, Jam and Lewis are woodshedding through their obvious affections for Parliament's freakiness (check the Flyte Time photos in particular for more) and Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia lushness, to name just two obvious, ultimately unavoidable reference points. This isn't Minneapolis blowing mind after mind in the mad rush, this is the groundwork, the early experiments, the demos en route to the full on experience. Drums sometimes barely sound there, mixes are merely what can be done with the tools to hand, it's not slapdash but it's not slick either.

But this ultimately is a large part of why Purple Snow is such a treat, and it goes back to what I said earlier. Call it funk - soul, R&B, dance, whatever, fuck a genre name - call it a thing that mutates and swirls and creates its own joy and documents its own sorrows, a reason to feel good, feel alive, that makes you smile and think when a phrase or a sentiment just gets that similar sense right. Plenty of times you'll be thinking of Earth, Wind and Fire's high profile exaltations, Kool and the Gang's suave excellence, the Emotions' sweep, the Ohio Players' scratch and kick, Stevie's dominance, the Jacksons' thrills. You can hear what they're hearing and what they're trying to do or be, in their own communities, in their own way, taking a language, speaking it in their own way and to heck with anyone who wants to say no. So many of the stories included in the booklet talk about bigger dreams that never quite come true, sidesteps and misdirections - for instance, Flyte Time might well have become its own thing on a bigger level if Cynthia Johnson hadn't had her memorable guest turn on another local product, Lipps Inc's 'Funkytown' and ended up on Casablanca's unsteady ship at the time. But Flyte Time led to the Time and Jam and Lewis, well, as noted.

And that's the thing, that sense of the supernova just to come, sometimes more clearly sensed than other times - you'll love hearing O'Neal already testing the possibilities of his voice on 'Borrowed Time' and 'Do You Dare', then there's Andre Cymone almost casually knocking off a bit of genius with his early demo track 'Somebody Said', drum machine lope and easy bass line and more somewhere between Sly Stone at his most spare and where any number of at-home types this century want to aim for. But you can also appreciate Haze's at once drifty and frenetically beautiful 'Waiting For The Moment', the Lewis Connection's sweetness and groove on 'Higher', Cohesion singing on their own theme song “We are Cohesion, we play for a reason!,” Herman Jones turning on the sentiment for 'I Love You', Music, Love and Funk kicking off 'Stone Lover' with a group gospel shout before thinking get wonderfully freaky. It's a collection where you're all “Wait, why aren't I listening to this all the time in the first place?”

And, of course, Prince. But you knew that already. Don't just give the drummer some here, give it to everybody. This music didn't exist just to incubate a genius, it exists because there's no reason for it not to and every reason to keep trying and to do something with a sound, a thought, and a feeling. Purple Snow documents one time, and may it and all its descendants and mutations and new children worldwide, now and to come, never stop.