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The sound of life

Various artists

Songs Inspired by Life and Movement

Clairaudience Records

It seems that everything must come full circle. Dance music, if one recalls, originally started off having a traditional song structure. That is, vocals and lyrics were more than samples, and were as central to a track as the beats, and there was a beginning, middle and end. But as DJs needed ways to maximize their selections, songs began to become less important and it became almost entirely about the beats, making productions often not much more than metronomes with a few added sounds here and there.

Well, it seems like the songs are back these days with records like those being put out by Chicago’s Clairaudience Records. The extensive work of label co-founder and producer Anthony Nicholson – whose various projects recall the soul of ’70s Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye as well as the house of early ’80s legends such as Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy and Larry Levan – add songs to the mix.

The new Clairaudience compilation album Songs Inspired by Life and Movement shows the variety of influences and sounds that the label has to offer. The album features the tracks “Spacestation,” “Maximus” and “Findaway” from Nicholson’s Space 7 collaboration with David Sampson. These cuts all have a cosmic jazz serenity that is reminiscent of Lonnie Liston Smith’s dreamy soundscapes of the ’70s, with lots of electric piano and gentle keys, shuffling beats with plenty of percussion, and even some vibes and atmospheric touches. Of course, there are also the female vocals, soulful crooning giving variety and personality to each song.

The other Nicholson productions on the record, Descendents’ “Light Shines Truth,” “Kwame’s Blues (Fame Game)” by Kwame, and “Jujazwarfare” by Afterglow/Suite #1, all give a similar feeling of drifting away in the clouds, while clad in your very best spacesuit just back from the cleaners, rocket-booster dance shoes strapped on. Even songs which are not Nicholson productions, such as Serene Motif’s “Obliquity,” and Taurus’ “Together,” cannot help but emote the same kick-back, smoky feel.

Nicholson has been DJing since he was a teenager in the early ’80s, spinning a variety of dance music, including but not limited to house, Chicago’s greatest contribution to the dance movement. As time went on he became interested in producing, and worked with people such as acclaimed producer Ron Trent, doing mostly straight for-the-clubs house tracks. This is represented on the album by Needs’ “Flying,” a funky house number guaranteed to get the laziest of behinds on the dance floor, and Restless Soul’s jazzy “Peace In My Life,” with its upbeat vocals in the spirit of celebration.

It seems as though the name Clairaudience (which means the power to hear something not present to the ear but which still has objective reality) was appropriately coined, considering Nicholson’s musical creation process.

“I’ll just be driving around, and get an idea in my head,” Nicholson said, “and then just go and play around with the ideas. I’ll just mess around with keyboards and figure some things out. There’s no real way I make music, I just do it.”

Nicholson does work mostly with live musicians, however, and as eclectic as his ideas may be, he has used a primary group for the past couple of years.

Nicholson also hopes that this ability to hear fresh sounds extends out to a greater audience, as he hopes to “spread the message worldwide” with a tour starting in May.

Upcoming projects include a solo album later this year, and working with a variety of artists including Omega, Phil Asher and Chris Robertson.