Music: God is in the Details

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The Independent Culture
YOU KNOW this track, even if you don't know the title. From the deadpan opening phrase "Some people" to the double-tracked "Let it flow, become a woman", the lead vocal is a masterpiece of cool, all the more remarkable for being by the musician Ashley Slater, a late starter as a pop singer. Most of the excellent jazz and contemporary albums on which Slater played trombone are impossible to track down, yet his 1993 hit "Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out" already sounds like a timeless classic. You may recall the tune from the notorious Levi's ad featuring a black transvestite in the back of a yellow cab.

It's not hard to hear why "Turn On..." is a classic. Hardly a note is wasted. Every detail counts: every motif, every inflection, from the exquisitely understated lead vocal to the rumbustiously uncool trombone solo. Slater's partner in Freak Power was the DJ/ musician Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).

As a pop radio track and club dance record, "Turn On..." is a textbook example of form following function: the groove is tight where it needs to be and baggy in all the right places. Slater's previous funk outings with Microgroove, co-led with his fellow Loose Tube John Eacott, generally lacked the sheer focus, style and killer instinct demonstrated by Freak Power's big hit.

And as a piece of songwriting "Turn On...", credited to Cook, is a masterly synthesis, full of impeccably well-chosen influences from funk, soul and electronic dance sources. These include Curtis Mayfield, Tower of Power and Sly Stone, of whose all-pervading but strangely unacknowledged influence Mark-Anthony Turnage spoke eloquently in The Independent last year. "Turn On..." has no real chord changes, just a riff, a vamp and a series of interlocking hooks as expertly balanced as one of John Harrison's clocks.

Had it featured a sax or (God forbid) a guitar solo, "Turn On..." would have remained merely a good track, but the trombone break lifts it to greatness. With his masterly blow Slater triumphantly enters the underpopulated hall of fame for funk-pop trombonists - Fred Wesley, Dave Bargeron, Peter Thoms, Annie Whitehead, Rico... As a singing "bone doctor", Slater is on his own and entirely of his time. As Freak Power say in the liner notes for Drive-Thru Booty: "Once we get out of the Seventies, the Nineties will make the Sixties look like the Eighties."