When London's Jazz Cafe programmer Adrian Gibson decided to start his Messin' Around night, it was an attempt to bring back the eclecticism of the 80s jazz-dance scene that had been lost when acid jazz morphed into triphop.
Leaving behind the snobby collector mentality typical of the rare groove elite, Gibson's broad taste and sense of adventure gave Messin' Around an attractive "anything goes" vibe and made the subsequent compilation series of the same name a hot seller with wide appeal. A quick glance at the track listing from the forthcoming third volume, Tighten Up -- which, along with the ripping James Brown-led live version of the title joint, includes Dizzy Gillespie's crack at Mas Que Nada and the Blues Magoos' Slow Down Sundown -- and it's evident that Gibson is more interested in keeping the dancers on their toes than the trainspotters.
"At the Jazz Cafe," explains Gibson, "bands looking for bookings were always sending me these great new recordings -- amazing stuff that no one was playing in clubs simply because it was new. So I thought it would be good to have a forum for quality funk, jazz, Latin and soul music whether it was old or recent.
"Around that time -- late 95 -- Perry Louis, who has a dance group called the Jazzcotech Dancers, came to me saying how frustrating it was to go to supposed jazz clubs and all the DJs would play was this weird-beat triphop. So we started the Messin' Around night and brought in guests like Snowboy and Rainer Trüby to spin while the Jazzcotech Dancers demonstrated that it's possible to dance to jazz -- there was an alternative to house music."
By 98, the Messin' Around residents had established a funky sound and progressive attitude of their own that Universal exploited in the Messin' Around compilation series. Suddenly, the night had a global profile, and Gibson began bringing the Messin' Around concept to other countries, a missionary of the good groove. But he's learned that what works in Berlin doesn't always go over in Barcelona.
"When I did a night in Toronto earlier this year, I noticed that certain records that have been huge in other parts of the world just inspired yawns, while some things that John Kong dropped, which no one in London would think of playing, were massive. You really have to know the crowd and tailor your set accordingly.
"I've been to Sweden a couple of times now, and they don't seem to go for uptempo funk at all. But I discovered that if I play mid-tempo soul -- almost too slow to dance to -- they go absolutely mad. One of the DJs I was with put on a really slow tune, the kind that would have people in London putting on their coats to go home, and this had guys dancing on tables and going barmy.
"It's endlessly fascinating."