Step Up
Date: August 27th. 2005
Reviewer: Spokeydokey

Denmark, home of Hans Christian Anderson, once ruled by Court King Gorm the Old and with newcomer, former Tasmanian Crown Prince Mary is also home to Morten Varano. In the past, Varano has released music with Puddu Varano, a partnership that has since ended. They released music that was supported by Ben Watt, Roger Sanchez and Richard Dorfmeister. Teaming up with Ramon Santana to form Los Chicharrons, Varano has been producing and DJing lounge style house music and now has released Step Up, a solo album with some help from numerous guests.

Many of the tracks on this album remind me of two groups, Sydney’s Eon Beats Project, and English trip-hop outfit Lamb. The fact that Nikolaj Bjerre, who has played drums for the latter performs on a number of the tracks on Step Up could have something to do with this connection being made. The final track on the album, Indifference, has a drum beat that is a close match to Trans Fatty Acid (K&D Session) by Lamb. Along with the superb, lush production that Varano has injected throughout the album, this song is given the acid jazz sound by Diane Charlemagne’s vocals. Charlemagne, who has sung with Moby, also contributes on songs Music Is My Soul and There’s a Dream Out There. While the end track is a moodier song, the other two are smooth pearlers destined for any sombrely lit lounge bar.

Music is My Soul includes the lyric “Music is a gift of love, and music is my soul”, the sentiments of many jazz artists and musicians is one of sheer joy for good music and with the Latin-inspired beat, backed by a four piece string section, this song is a celebration of life. There’s a Dream Out There is a melding of funk, soul, pop with a lively afro-beat behind a squelched out blaxploitation guitar riff. The weight of Varano’s production quality shines through on other tracks, such as I’ll Get The Better of You. This song seems familiar, while not quite placable. Begun with a lightly finger picked nylon string guitar, an easy strong beat becomes the song underneath the powerfully evocative vocals of Camilla Munck.

Step Up manages to travel through a variety of sounds, the title track is a cool, lounge downbeat track with vocalist Wunmi whose sound is reminiscent of Sade. There’s a nod to Mark Knopfler’s western for the modern age guitar sound on It’s Gonna Be Alright, while Universal Rhythm combines Jonas Stampe on Sitar, saxophone, the strings including four violins and a cello underneath drums and percussion and not forgetting Varano’s keys and programming. This last track is a strong world beat cum club rhythm track that combines everything about this album like a mission statement.

The overall feel of the album is a brilliant vibe, with songs of hope, strength and joy, the genres of acid jazz and lounge music are combined wonderfully. Electronic music out of the sphere of a dance club has so much potential for amazing sounds, and Morten Varano has released a fantastic contribution to the big puddle of sounds we’re surrounded by.