Roni Size
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New Forms , 7/10
Ultra Obscene, 6/10
In The Mode, 6/10
Touching Down , 5/10
Return To V (2004), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

The music of Roni Size epitomizes the black kids in Bristol who, at the beginning of the 1990s, were trying to play hip hop, reggae, soul, and ended up with an original concoction of all those styles layered on top of a dominant dance style, which in his case was drum'n'bass. In a few years, Size became the leader of Reprazent, a Bristol-based collective which often performs with four DJs, a double bassist and a percussionist. Roni Size's work extends far beyond Reprazent, with countless other releases under the names Mask and Firefox, not to mention collaborations with fellow Reprazenters DJ Krust (Daylight) and DJ Die (Music Box, 1991).

Roni Size's early singles, such as It's A Jazz Thing, Brut Force, Timestretch, Dayz, Only A Dream, were not particularly original in their take on rave music, but they showed Size experimenting and progressing towards a full-fledged "auteur" approach to composition. The monumental double disc New Forms (Mercury, 1997) created a sensation because it blended jungle's breakbeats with live instruments and singing, and it even reconciled dance music's suite format with the traditional song format of rock music. The music was no less innovative, borrowing freely from a vast array of musical styles, particularly jazz and soul. Brown Paper Bag, nine minutes of languid guitar and bass doodling in a ghostly soundscape of keyboard drones and dissonances, could be a composition from Chicago's "creative jazz" school. Even better, Let's Get It On boasts the instrumental sensitivity of bebop and free-jazz. The guitar and trumpet duo in Hi-Potent blends Steve Reich's minimalism and New Orleans' street fanfares. Ballet Dance exhibits a similar sense of disorientation, as themes meander, vaguely resonant of Miles Davis, in a deep mud of double bass, metallic percussions and trumpet buzzs. Jazz and avantgarde keep reoccurring (Trust Me, Change My Life, Jazz) in a combination that was pioneered by the Soft Machine and Matching Mole, not in Bristol but in Canterbury.
The album's songs are still engaging, although less original. The alien rhythm and the sensual whisper that duet on Digital, the dadaistic forest of sound effects and thick syncopated polirhythms in Mad Cat, are sophisticated touches from a master of the arrangement. Heroes and Share The Fall are particularly effective as songs. The album is way too long for what it has to say and the fillers are countless, but it does rival with Goldie's debut in terms of historical importance. Its jazz flavoring may even have unveiled a formidable jazz talent.

The EP Breakbeat Era (XL, 1998) is the title of the new collaboration between Roni Size and DJ Die, a trio which also includes vocalist Leonie Laws.

Ultra Obscene (A&M, 1999), credited again to Breakbeat Era, completes the fusion of the pop song with the jungle breakbeat that has been the dominant theme in Size's career. The rich electronic textures and rugged rhythm carpets of Ultra Obscene, Anti-Everything and Life Is My Friend lead the female singer in a natural manner, leaving little or no room for improvisation. The same scheme is repeated song after song, with slight variations. Bullitproof rocks harder and Breakbeat Era is jazzier. The project wears a bit thin after these tracks have displayed the basic technique that turns drum'n'bass into "groove'n'refrain". So childish rap (Animal Machine), bass (Terrible Funk) and vibraphone (Rancid) have to come to the rescue of tracks that have dangerously lost both their pop and their dance appeals. And by the time Control Freak spins out its gospel-infected chant, the tables have been turned and the vocals control the beats. Before jungle was invented, Material attempted a similar operation on funk.
However, Size succeeds elsewhere. The instrumental Past Life supplements the drum'n'bass base with a bass loop, whirlwinds of distant synthesizers and funny electronic noises that sound like animal voices. New-age guitar swoons dilute the booming force of Late Morning and create the most surreal atmosphere. Size is more talented than he knows.

In The Mode (Island, 2000) presents a slightly more aggressive sound, influenced by contemporary achievements of American hip-hop music, and mostly a welcome departure from a sound too sophisticated for its own good, that was rapidly becoming an easy-listening cliche`. Raining You shows the way. But the main feature of Who Told You, Ghetto Celebrity, Staircase, Play The Game is their propensity to mess with pop and soul, thanks mainly to Size's improved skills in conducting his distinguished guest singers. German composer Max Richter collaborated with Roni Size on this album.

Roni Size returned to his DJ roots with Touching Down (Full Cycle, 2002), which mirrors his DJ performances and is structured as a DJ set. The album has one strong cut (Sound Advice), a few average ones (At The Movies, Forget Me Knots, Sorry for You, Siren Sounds, Keep Strong) and filler. He is not a genius, after all: just a DJ.

Just like In The Mode had paid homage to the American hip-hop, Roni Size's Return To V (Thrive, 2004), featuring an army of guest vocalists, seems largely inspired by American "new jack swing" (No More, Want Your Body, Pull Up, Sing) and perhaps by Dizzee Rascal's "grime" (Problems, Time), although reinterpreted through the prism of Size's cubist imagination. This turn of event helps resurrect his cosmopolitan-chic style to its most peacock-like. That is not to say that the album is monotone. In fact, it is one of the most multi-directional of his career, including a subtle tribute to his own roots in hardcore house (Shoulder to Shoulder, Fassyhole, Give Me a Reason, Trouble).

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