Private Recordings August 1970

Dark Entries • 1970

Together with producer Patrick Cowley, Sylvester James has defined the North American Hi-NRG sound and thus created a decidedly queer counterpoint to the Sound of Munich. »You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)« or »Do You Wanna Funk« are equal parts music-historical milestones and timeless evergreens. That Sylvester had a soft spot for the blues and jazz standards of the first half of the 20th century doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it had never been documented as extensively as here. The release of »Private Recordings, August 1970« by Dark Entries—based in Sylvester’s place of work in San Francisco—is nothing less than a sensation. A good seven years before he first made a name for himself as a disco diva with his self-titled debut album and songs like »Down, Down, Down,« Sylvester recorded a series of standards like »Big City Blues« or »Stormy Weather« as intimate home recordings with surprisingly good sound quality together with flatmate Peter Mintun on piano. Every now and then the plosives pop, the highest heights of Sylvester’s impressive falsetto vocals sound distorted and the clicking of Mintun’s keys can be heard again and again. However, all this only enhances the atmospheric quality of these performances. Mintun’s vocal part on »A Foggy Day,« for example, was recorded further away from the microphone and thus comes from deep down in the mix, before Sylvester takes over, a few inches away from the mic. There are a few moments like this that might have purely been the result of external circumstances, yet reinforce the internal dramaturgy of the performance. With few resources, the pair created a sonic and emotional depth that few others managed to extrapolate from the known repertoire. The throwback nature of the selection, as well as the accompanying circumstances—a photo session by retro-fetishist Mintun with Sylvester is documented in the booklet accompanying the vinyl edition of »Private Recordings, August 1970« – seemingly cannot be reconciled with the slick aesthetic of later Sylvester albums. And yet the key to his entire oeuvre lies precisely in this archive material. This is probably the most important and, more importantly, most beautiful reissue of the year.