DJ and record shop owner Jean-Claude Thompson has come along way since spinning house, hip-hop and techno at raves up and down the London-encircling M25 motorway during the late ’80s. As one half of genre-blending production duo the Amalgamation of Soundz he performed at Glastonbury and hosted a residency at famed nightclub Fabric. Since the duo parted ways a few years into the new millennium, he’s gone on to well-deserved recognition as one of the world’s foremost rare vinyl specialists.
Jean-Claude’s reputation among London’s music connoisseurs was cemented during his stint as manager of the Jazz Lounge; the tiny yet hugely significant top floor of iconic ’90s Soho record store and musical hub Release The Groove. Painstakingly arranging a small selection of titles and joining musical dots with scant regard for genre, Jean-Claude deliberately placed jazz alongside tech-house; folk alongside hip-hop. To the musical adventurer looking for inspiration, the Jazz Lounge became a mecca. It’s no coincidence that regulars included dance music avant-gardists such as Pete Heller, LTJ Bukem, Kenny Dope and Tom Middleton.
In 2003, Jean-Claude struck out on his own and founded IF Music, a specialist store and website emblazoned with its founder’s alluring catchphrase: “you need this!” Despite tumultuous times for independent shops over the next decade or so, IF Music’s trusted status among serious collectors ensured its survival. In fact, after a seven-year absence, Jean-Claude recently moved the store back to his spiritual home of Soho, right opposite the site once occupied by Black Market Records. The mention of this raises a smile from the man himself and he interrupts as I’m about to ask the obvious question: “Serendipity? For sure…”
Born in Hampstead, London, to an Italian mother and Latino father from the Caribbean, Jean-Claude began absorbing a phenomenally diverse mix of cultures from an early age.
“My late mother was extremely cultured and really passionate about all forms of music,” he says. “My father was a photo/journalist and music nut, consequentially he did all sorts of photoshoots including album covers. From the age of six, I chose and bought my own records, I was obsessed with music and dance; anything touched by jazz would always get my attention. The first album to really make an impact on me was Jimmy Smith’s The Cat, released in 1964. I was born in ’62 so one of the earliest images implanted into my conscious and subconscious is that album, and it was played a lot at home! That cover, that huge sound!”
Perhaps more than any other country barring America (and for socio-political reasons too numerous to mention here), Britain in the ’80s boasted its own particular melting pot of music and fashion, so a young Jean-Claude found it easy to reconcile his love of jazz with explorations into electronic music as the rave scene began to explode.
“Leading up to and including the Summer of Love ‘89, it was an amazing time for me as a DJ,” Jean-Claude says. “Parties seven nights a week starting on a Saturday with Troll at the Soundshaft (which I was lucky enough to have played a few times), Monday’s Spectrum/Land of Oz and then non-stop all the way through to the weekend where you might end up doing three gigs in one night, with the last one finishing sometime the following afternoon. Now remember: ecstasy had only landed a couple of years earlier so playing to such a receptive and loved-up crowd was brilliant for the DJs. Especially those of us who did not partake. Everything we played worked, people were open to every sound we threw at them. Tempo did not matter; it all depended on you, the DJ, your imagination and how good technically you were at mixing. There was nothing more poetic than to watch Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson on a pair of deck or Carl Cox on 3 turntables. It’s never been about any one genre for us, it’s always been about an artist or track having it. I think with us it’s about the battle against mediocrity ’cause we have such shitty weather all the time.”
For Jean-Claude, the “battle against mediocrity” has become the habit of a lifetime; to this day it informs the way he runs IF Music and probably explains the shop’s success.
“Though jazz is the base reference for what we stock,” he says, “and because of that everything and anything goes; New and old music: house, soul, post/dub-step, hip-hop, disco/boogie, reggae, broken, psych et al. It just needs to feel true, honest and not seeming to be contrived or safe. To compliment the records, the cultural ideal of the shop and for a touch of diversification, we also sell vintage bits including sunglasses, books/magazines, art, prints, toys and various oddities. Space and layout are very important to us; unlike a lot of record shops, there is room to swing a very large cat in here. We have had some incredible in-stores with bands playing un-plugged which is definitely something to behold.”
Compiling the first volume of his Journey into Deep Jazz album series on BBE in 2014, Jean-Claude returned full circle to the sounds that first enchanted him as a six-year-old. A second volume has just been released on the label, arguably delving even deeper than the first and showing a particular penchant for long, slowly evolving compositions, some over twelve minutes in length. Asked what “deep jazz” means to him, his answer is characteristically uncompromising:
“It’s all about relevance for me,” he answers. “The questions are: has it dated and does it still do it? If the composition or album is rare, obscure but sounds derivative of the period, then generally it gets discarded. Hopefully you are then left with music that inspires the youngsters as well the older farts. None of this is just about ‘deep jazz,’ it has to be about deep meaningful music, looking beyond the outer reaches of the mainstream and perceptions of what is.
“As Miles said, ‘Jazz is a feeling.’ It’s that extra bit of dirt, grit, rawness, beauty: the deepest of pain, the strongest of loves, the quest not to be bland or run of the mill, the political and the spiritual of course. Mind you: spiritual music by its very definition is deep, but deep music does not have to be spiritual.”
Without any further ado, here are Jean-Claude’s Five Essential Deep Jazz Records (in his own words):
From Sweden via Turkey, it’s got to be Maffy Falay “Jazz I Sverige ’72,” recorded for Swedish national radio on Caprice Records out of Stockholm.
Turkey’s rich musical heritage stems from the region’s close relationship with their classic folk music. With supreme Kurdish/Turkish musicians: trumpeter Maffy Falay, drummer/ percussionists Okay and Akay Temiz, violinist Salih Baysal team up with Sweden’s Sevda it’s the perfect marriage of East meets West.
Japanese jazz does not get much deeper than when the master of the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) Hozan Yomamoto steps into the arena with “Silver World” on Philips (’69). This is just one of his must-have albums and it co-stars: the faultless pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, Gary Peacock on bass, and Hiroshi Murakami on drums. Old and new Japan in perfect harmony.
For something contemporary and as yet unreleased at the time of this interview: Collocutor’s second album entitled The Search (On the Corner Records, 2017). The beautifully talented Tamar Osborne and her band have been causing serious waves in the large pond that is U.K. jazz.
As Mulatu Astatke puts it, “I like Collocutor a lot, they have the feeling.” If it’s good enough for the great Mulatu, methinks it’s good enough for mere mortals like us.
Dropping sometime in 2017: the Cuban All-Stars “Cuban Jam Session” on Zanja 607 Records—possibly the best jazz album to have come out of Havana in fifty years!
Finally, included on my latest compilation it’s got to be Giorgio Gaslini’s Free Actions III Movement. Be careful not to crick your neck, the beat on this is insane! Milan born Giorgio Gaslini (1929-2014) is famed as one of Italy’s leading free-jazz musicians and composers, as well as being responsible for quite a few “Gialli” soundtracks. Pure filth is the only way one can describe Movimento III: from the moment the break kicks in with the upright bass, through to that electric piano drop, the twisted percussion panned almost to one side, to the interplay of the saxes. Seriously dope!
I’m no musicologist and certainly no journalist, but trust me when I say: if you like your music deep… you need these!
Both volumes of Jean-Claude’s Journey into Deep Jazz are available from BBE Music.
Find Jean-Claude’s IF Music store on the second floor at 12 D’Arblay Street, London, or online here.