Saturday, January 12, 2008

Disco Delivery #50:
Brenda Mitchell - Don't You Know (1978, Barclay/Polygram)

Brenda Mitchell - Body Party
Brenda Mitchell - Body Party (Patrick Cowley & Jon Randazzo Disco Mix)
Brenda Mitchell - Body Party (Patrick Cowley Alternate 12'' Mix)
Brenda Mitchell - I'm Running
Brenda Mitchell - Don't You Know

Hope everyone out there had a Happy New Year. I may be a little late in starting things off this year, but with lots of disco and even some new music to cover in the coming weeks, I might as well get on with it..

Apparently one of producer Pierre Jaubert's somewhat lesser-known productions, I had come across a sealed copy of this album about a year ago and picked it up as soon as I saw his name on the credits. Though I had never heard of the album, nor of the singer Brenda Mitchell, being a huge fan of Jaubert's production on disco albums by the likes of Michele and Chantal Curtis, I figure there had to be something worthwhile on this record..

Prior to some of his more mainstream disco productions in the late 70's, Jaubert apparently had a notable background in jazz, having worked with the likes of Archie Shepp and Charles Mingus. Jaubert's work also seems to figure quite prominently within the hip-hop/funk/soul cognoscenti, particularly with his production of the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band (who later became Ice), a group whose albums of proto-disco/afro-funk grooves seem to have provided for plenty of samples over the years.. Notably, many of the Lafayette/Ice musicians (Lafayette Hudson, Ernest Donable, Arthur Young, Frank Abel etc..) would make notable contributions to Jaubert's other disco productions, this one included.

Comparing Jaubert's productions from this time, I couldn't help but recall a little thread on the forums where some had openly wondered, given the similar vocal style and the anonymity of the vocalists, whether Michele and Chantal Curtis were in fact one and the same. Listening to this album, along with the Michele and Chantal Curtis records, either Jaubert had an affinity for similarly breathy, willowy-voiced female singers, or he simply used the same singer under several different guises. If it weren't for the different names and pictures on the albums, their voices would be practically interchangeable. Mystery aside, the vulnerably sexy, understated vocals are undoubtedly one of the key elements, along with his signature bass and percussion-heavy style which made his productions so appealing.

Given some of the musicians on some of Jaubert's productions, I also can't help but draw a little comparison to fellow Frenchman Jacques Morali. Although both producers had a very different sound, both producers seemed to be at least somewhat influenced by the Philly sound, given the use of Philly musicians and studios on their records. Although the Philly involvement is much more prominent on Morali's productions than on Jaubert's where only a few prominent Philly related names appear among the mostly European players (on here, they include The Sweethearts of Sigma and Weldon MacDougal III whose credited for a little something called a Cromulizer), they're like two different sides to the same coin. While Morali's work was typified by an unabashedly gay, campy sensibility (which I also love, don't get me wrong), Jaubert was quite the opposite. A much less bombastic, modest style in comparison, Jaubert's records had a much sleeker, sexier, at times even darker sound to them (see Chantal Curtis' "Get Another Love"). Driven by a basic rhythm section, with guitars, bass and congas prominent along with a very distinctive string and horn sweetening style, one would be hard-pressed to call any of it 'overproduced.'

The first track, "Body Party," undoubtedly the standout here, is especially emblematic of that approach. A dark, driven and sexy disco track, the propulsive bassline, relentless galloping percussion, arresting horns and the constant, beckoning "par-tay" in the background, make this an absolutely unyielding track. With the overall dark, heavy tone along with Mitchell's urging, sensual vocals, there's an almost chilly, primal sexiness to the whole atmosphere, this party feeling less like your average celebratory get-down, and more like an invitation into another side of disco, of deeper, more forbidden indulgences..

While the entire album was mixed by the apparently unknown John Custer, the 12'' mixes of "Body Party" were done by the late, great Patrick Cowley in what appears to be one of his earliest releases. Previously, Cowley had done one of his megamixes for another Pierre Jaubert production, Michele's "Disco Dance." While this isn't extended like "Disco Dance" was, the shooting synthesized pulses and swirling space effects of Cowley's synthesizer overlays practically send the whole thing into outer space, heightening the forbidding sexiness of the track, giving it a whole new forcefulness.. Done the same year as Sylvester's classic "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," Cowley's overlays on here are remarkably similar to those on Sylvester's classic track. Although it's a much more integral part of "..Mighty Real," some of the same effects and sounds are evident here, with both sharing a particularly similar electronic pulse.

Curiously, Cowley was credited on the main disco mix with Jon Randazzo, who was apparently a DJ at a premier San Francisco gay venue at the time called The City Disco (where Patrick himself had also worked) and if this Disconet newletter is to be believed, something of a mentor to him. Not sure if this is Randazzo's only credit on a record, but so far it's the only one I've ever come across..

Although I'm not sure if there were any other 12'' pressings that did so, the UK 12'' of "Body Party" on the Creole label was the only one that I've found to give credit to both Cowley and Randazzo for the disco mix. Not sure if this was also the case for any of the other 12" releases, but after coming across the UK pressing, I later found out that my Canadian 12'' was mislabeled, with the label listing the credits and time of the John Custer album mix, but the grooves pressed with the Cowley/Randazzo disco mix. Curiously also, the UK 12'' also included an alternate mix/edit on the B-side which doesn't actually credit anyone for the mix, but gives a shared production credit between Jaubert and Cowley. Running a little shorter at some five or so minutes, the alternate mix is somewhat less spacious using more of the vocals, including some ad-libs not present in any of the other versions..

As far as the rest of the album tracks go, one of the other excellent tracks on the album is the second one, "I'm Running." Lyrically and vocally nothing special, however it's saved by an excellent arrangement, with a propulsive groove, led by prominent combination of guitars and horns particularly on the breaks half-way through..

The last of the worthwhile tracks on the record is the Side One closer and title track, "Don't You Know." Anchored by a rather harsh jarring sound, as if a helicopter had landed in the middle of the session, it's an intriguing, albeit fairly crude attempt at a more electronic sound. Continuing in the heavy pulse and feel of the other tracks, it's nonetheless one of the more interesting, given that this is the only time (so far) that I've heard this type of electronic sound on a Jaubert production.

Overall, the highlights of this album are all on Side One, with Side Two being, in my opinion, a complete write-off. None of the songs on the other side bear anything even slightly memorable, the feel and flow sounding completely forced with Mitchell's (or whomever's) voice adding little to the proceedings. The one notable track though would probably the opener, "Get It Together," written by the Romanian film composer Vladimir Cosma and used in the 1980 film "Inspecteur la Bavure." Not sure if the film version was a different recording from the version on this album, but just to add another bit of mystery to the vocalist's true identity, apparently "Get It Together" would later be released as a single credited to Chantal Curtis (thanks to commenter Yuki for this bit of info.).. That aside, even that track is rather sub-par when compared to the three on Side One. As excellent as the three tracks on Side One are, considering all of the tracks on the entire album, and ranking this along side some of Jaubert's similarly styled productions (Chantal Curtis and Michele), this one would likely be the weakest of the three..

As far as the singer's identity, just to muddle things up a little, prior to this album there was also a Jaubert produced 12" credited to Brenda Mitchell with two songs: "Sweet Music" and "Earthern Paradise," where the vocals sounded markedly different than those on here. Either Mitchell used a completely different vocal style on that 12" than on this album, or they are two completely different singers altogether. Furthermore, just to further shroud this in mystery, like many an anonymous disco singer, who Brenda Mitchell was (an actual vocalist or simply a convenient alias?) and whatever became of her, so far, seem to be completely unknown..

Producer Pierre Jaubert however appears to have remained active in the industry with his Paris-based music publishing company Topomic Music. Topomic has a wonderfully designed website, where you can get an idea of the artists and records Jaubert has been involved with over the years (go to the album covers and commercial sections). Some of the notable artists include bluesmen Memphis Slim and John Lee Hooker, as well as Saxophonist/disco man, Leroy Gomez, to name a few.

Although this album was released in Canada, not sure if the LP or any of the singles were ever released in the US, since I have yet to find any US pressings in my limited travels. Despite not being the strongest of Jaubert's productions overall, the redeeming tracks on Side One are nonetheless among some of Jaubert's finest disco productions. In addition, the 12'' mixes of "Body Party" are equally wonderful, not only for their sonic brilliance but perhaps also for their historical significance as one of Patrick Cowley's earliest and likely, most overlooked efforts. Add all of that along with a little bit mystery to the mix, and it certainly makes for some interesting, intriguing listening, musically and otherwise..





Anonymous said...

What a mysterious album it is!

Chantal Curtis(Michele) is singing most tunes of this album.

Only some choruses are singing Brenda.※ Brenda Mitchel is very soulful singing Style Black Singer.

"Get It Together" was single cutted by name of "Chantal Curtis" in France.

It is a mystery.

Anonymous said...


What a mysterious album it is!

I think Chantal Curtis(Michele) is singing most tunes of this album.

Only some choruses are singing Brenda & Sweet hearts of sigma.

※I think Brenda Mitchel is very soulful singing Style Black Singer.
ex. Track 2 "I'm Running"'s Soulful adlib vocal .

"Get It Together" was single cutted by name of "Chantal Curtis" in France.

It is a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Tommy, this blog is seriously educational.

Loving your work!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great blog! Could you also share the remaining tracks of the Brenda Mitchell LP? Thanks:)

Tommy said...

Hello Yuki, thanks for the additional info! I just updated the blog with it. I had no idea "Get It Together" was a single released under Chantal's name.. After reading your comment, I just remembered that I have a 12" here credited to Brenda Mitchell with two tracks: "Sweet Music" and "Earthern Paradise" both produced by Pierre Jaubert. The vocals on that sound very different than on here, so it definitely does sound like Michele or Chantal Curtis or whomever is likely singing on here too.. Thanks again for the comment, Yuki! :)

Hello Haydn, I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for the comment! Some great selections on your blog as well :)

Hello Clarke.. For now, this is all I'll be putting up from this album, sorry..

Haydn said...

Hi thanks for the link Tommy, I will return the favour.

Are you aware that Chantal Curtis and Michele are (allegedly) the same person?



Thank you for doing what you're doing.

Tommy said...

Hey Haydn - sorry for the late reply.. Yeah I remember reading on a thread @ about people speculating whether Chantal and Michele were one and the same. I placed a link to it in the entry somewhere in the 4th paragraph.. I'm starting to think maybe Brenda might be yet another alias too.. Their voices are certainly similar enough. Although I make it a policy to never email producers or artists that I cover until they email me, lately. I've been tempted to do so regarding Michele/Chantal/Brenda.. Anyway, thanks again for the comments and for linking me back! :)

Hello Franc, thanks for the kind comment, I appreciate it! :)

Anonymous said...

Tommy, your work is simply unbelievable. And here I thought I had EVERYTHING by Patrick Cowley. Yes, you can totally hear "Might Real" in "Body Party"!

Tommy said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for the kind comment! Yeah, coming across the Patrick Cowley remix was a total surprise for me too! Anyway, thanks again for the comment! :)

Anonymous said...

I have a tape of a tv show featuring various high school students from the Chicago area and Brenda Mitchell does a solo. I recognize he voice and face. So it is her real name. I am trying to find her to give her a copy of this tape from 1971. It aired on a local Chicago station. If you have found out where she is, please let me know.

Search this blog