In 1988, when Judy Russell, Frank and Karen Mendez founded Nu Groove, it was essentially to provide an outlet for the productions of Rheji and Ronald ‘Rhano’ Burrell, better known as The Burrell Brothers. Faced with the failure of their debut album, released that same year on Virgin, the duo decided to forget their mainstream pretensions and return to the underground on the platform founded by their then-managers. From there they shaped a sound that - along with the work of master Larry Heard and the productions of other New York producers like Bobby Konders - ended up becoming the touchstone for the later construction of the deep-house sound. In turn, they provided a foundation for the building of the catalogue of one of the most essential labels of American house.
With “The Nu Groove Years 1988-1992” (put out now via Rush Hour), we are looking at no less than a key piece of the history of modern dance music. It’s a retrospective that, beyond its obvious musical value, looks to be necessary to help to retrace a course that would serve as the framework for an outpouring of productions - whose power as a whole might have been dispersed by having arrived under an infinite number of aliases. Bringing together 15 cuts (or 21 if we add the two parts that the vinyl version is divided into) from the more than 25 references that they put out (together or separately) on the platform, the compilation includes all of the branches of their sound. Their sound drew on Chicago sources and wrapped them up in the sophistication of the New York disco legacy; whilst simultaneously purifying the garage house sound that had been born some years earlier in New York’s Paradise Garage or the club Zanzibar in New Jersey.
The tracklist doesn’t go in chronological order, but rather follows a more conceptual sequencing, which plays in favour of the idea of reclaiming the unity that we spoke of before. It is no coincidence, then, that the album opens with Metro’s “Brownstone Express”, a track that in a sense laid the foundations for the legacy that was to come. The first part of the compilation shows the way that The Burrell Brothers knew how to adapt the different currents of house to find a new language. On the one hand, they polish the jacking spirit of Chicago and smooth its rough edges with Tech Trax Inc.’s “Feel The Love ”, N.Y. House'n Authority’s “Apt 2a”, and Equation’s “The Answer (X² (RB) Mix)”. Meanwhile, on the other hand, they reduce the disco sound to its most minimal, primal elements; like for example in K.A.T.O’s production or N.Y. House'n Authority’s “Apt 3b”, where they gave their own version of the garage wave. Metro’s “Angel Of Mercy”, which closes this first section, is another fantastic example of the Burrells’ mastery when it came to bringing together the rhythm and nervous drive of the Windy City trax with refined keyboards and deep, complex ambient. In the second part, we move into the 90s with productions like those of Houz' Neegroz, Aphrodisiac, and Equation’s “I'll Say A Prayer 4 U”, alongside the self-titled Tech Trax Inc. cut. These tracks possess a somewhat more expansive sound with plenty of soulful vocals, but their main raison d’être continued to be subtlety and hypnotism. Finally, the last segment goes back to the early years, before another significant choice is made to close the journey: “Apt 1b” by N.Y. House'n Authority, the cut that probably gave them their highest peak of popularity.