New & Cool: Naked Music NYC Merges Soul And Hip-Hop

Production wizard recruits top artists in both genres for LP that offersstripped-down sound.

What do you get when the best musicians who have played on highly

influential "new soul"-style and hip-hop records get together in New

York

City to play the music they love?

You get music that is naked, stripped to its barest soulful essentials.

This is what the group Naked Music NYC and their upcoming debut album

What's On Your Mind? (OM Records) is all about.

"For me it was a labor of love. On this record, I finally got to play

the

music that I really loved," said 31-year-old Jay Denes, Naked Music's

primary songwriter and ringleader. Denes works out of a Soho recording

studio where he has produced jazz/soul/hip-hop-influenced groups such as

Groove Collective and the Repercussions, as well as a number of

underground

dance and house records.

As a worldly urban musician and artist, Denes knows a lot of people, and

a

lot of people know him. So, realizing that he had the perfect

opportunity

to recreate the classic soul music that he loves -- music that traces

its

lineage from the legendary Sam Cooke through R & B masters Marvin Gaye,

Curtis Mayfield and Al Green -- he recruited a group of top hip-hoppers

and

soulful artists and went to work.

"For the other musicians this record was made in the

'hey-do-you-want-to-play-on-my-record?' school of record-making," Denes

said. "They are all people who are my friends or people I've produced

stuff

for, and have done them favors and they do me favors. Because of where I

am

in New York a lot of these people happen to be the best, world-class

cats."

The "cats" he's talking about include Jonathan Maron, whose list of

bass-playing credits include Maxwell, D'Angelo, Groove Collective and

the

Repercussions. Dave Boonshoft, who plays uncredited on a number of

classic

hip-hop records by RUN-DMC and Naughty by Nature, also plays bass on a

number of songs. Bob Power, who has served as Denes'

mentor and friend, contributed guitar to the album. Power has engineered

and occasionally performed on a number of the most influential hip-hop

and

soul records of the 1990s, including classic albums by current big-name

artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, De La Soul and the

Roots, among others. In addition to these players, Denes enlisted the

help

of vocalists Ada Dyer and Catherine Russell to provide the passionate

vocals that are at the center of Naked Music NYC's songs.

All of this talent and experience helped produce an album of mellow,

soulful, and powerful grooves one would expect of players who have

already

helped define the sound of records by new soul artists such Badu,

D'Angelo

and Maxwell. "It's Love," What's On Your Mind's first song,

assertively announces what the album is all about. Sounding both old and

new, it mixes a mellow funk backbeat with a subtle bass, flute and

soulful

vocals.

But why is this style of soul music making such a comeback? "Classic

soul

has never really gone away," answered Bruno Ybarra, an OM Records

representative who is also a longtime soul music aficionado and

soul-spinning DJ. "But soul music has gotten so commercialized nowadays,

it's no longer intoxicating in its simplicity. But artists like Erykah

Badu

and Maxwell are taking it back while moving forward, and in the process

are

keeping soul music alive. People want that."

The album's title track sounds like it's the long-lost cousin of Marvin

Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me," with its distinctly similar conga sound and

string

arrangements. Other songs such as "3 A.M." and "Love is Everything"

sound

like they could have been written in the '70s, though the more modern

and

less refined production gives away the fact that this is a contemporary

record.

"The record definitely owes its existence to classic soul and what I

call

'the big three' of the new artists out there: D'Angelo, Maxwell and

Erykah

Badu," Denes said. "They've made it possible for the new genre to have a

place in the record industry world again." [Mon.,

Feb. 16, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]