f all the fascinating things about Kenny Dixon Jr., perhaps his innate ability to reconfigure past material is the most intriguing. Black Mahogani is Dixon’s fifth full-length compilation of material and his finest since his Planet E debut, A Silent Introduction. But Black Mahogani is no ordinary compilation, haphazardly placing together music with little regard to for position or the flow of the record. Instead, what Dixon has done here is subtly tweak the existing tracks to cohere into a seamless whole.
For those who already own the tracks (not many, considering the relative rareness of Dixon’s vinyl work), Black Mahogani may not be the revelation that is for the uninitiated. But if you only tend to listen to the full-lengths or have even never encountered his work before, Black Mahogani (along with Silent Introduction) is an essential document of soulful, jazz-inspired house music. And one might venture to say that they’re essential documents of electronic music. Period.
Roberta Sweed is the unifying force for the first third of the record, highlighted most prominently on the eleven-minute epic “Runaway”. Prior to this peak though Sweed lends her emotive talents to the two-song suite of “Holiday” and “Roberta Jean Machine”. The latter is a propulsive track that also features Norma Jean Bell on saxophone, lending an understated elegance to the already expansive sound palette that Dixon samples and reconfigures. But it’s the lengthy “Runaway” which should rightly get the most attention here, being a repetitive vamp for Sweed and Dixon to work their magic upon. The song effectively ends two-thirds of the way through, foreshadowing the type of soundscaping that Dixon undertakes much later. The result is a short outro that is just as charming as “Runaway” proper is unrelentingly glorious.
The second portion of the record is arguably its peak (although it must be said that this compilation doens't appear concerned with the usual tension/release dynamic that most electronic music falls into). “I’m Doing Fine” and “Shades of Jae” are seemingly two of the most straightforward tracks here, presumably little changed from their original versions. The former is a smooth ride that follows a snake-like synth line throug the rhythms and keyboards that cocoon it, whilst the latter is the classic of the bunch, having been released long ago and shaken dance crowds to the core via Dixon’s ability to maintain tension at a fever pitch. The ecstatic climax (even though it’d hardly be claimed to be so by most casual listeners) when the keyboard line finally dips below its holding pattern is a moment worth waiting for.
From here the record earns its soundtrack stripes by indulging in what amounts to five minutes of scene-setting and ambience. It’s a suitable come-down from “Shades of Jae” and contains some of the signature samples that helped earn Dixon, along with his outspoken views in rare interviews, his reputation as a radical figure in the electronic underground with regards to race. The samples are taken from two of the finer films of the Blaxploitation genre: Superfly and Detroit 9000. The album ends with the lengthy Black Mahogany suite, split into two tracks. It’s again an expert lesson in the construction and retention of tension throughout its fifteen-minute length.
It’d almost be a cliché at this moment to label Kenny Dixon Jr. a genius. Since 1997, he's been challenging and upending the album format and its possibilities for artists that are primarily concerned with 12” culture. Epic in scope and epic in achievement, Black Mahogani is another gem in his sterling catalogue.