Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr Founded by Coldcut’s Matt Black and Jonathan More, Ninja Tune has offered to the world an eclectic group of beat smiths for nearly a quarter-century. More recently, the label has been home to organic provocateurs like Bonobo, ESMKO, The Bug and Slugabed and is distribution partner for Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint and Actress’ Werkdiscs, Ninja Tune established its credibility in the mid-‘90s by unearthing some of the most inspired instrumentals from around the globe for its ravenous UK fan base. Cementing the label’s early bridge between jazz-oriented breakbeats and atmospheric trip-hop was Italy’s 9 Lazy 9 collective, helmed by Keir Fraser and Giacomo Braddellini (aka James Braddell). As suggested by titles like Paradise Blown and Electric Lazyland (the group’s 1994 releases) 9 Lazy 9 were keen on developing their own quirky nuisances within sun-kissed downtempo sourced from the Italian Riviera. Only eight months removed from the group’s Paradise Blown debut, the 17-track Electric Lazyland showcased an expanded yet refined production palette. Like Norman Cook’s Beats International (Black and More were already friends/colleagues of Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) by this time), at the onset of the ‘90s, 9 Lazy 9 were discovering and contorting sounds pulled from around the globe for an often chemically-enhanced audience. The tone shifted little between their first two releases, yet the new focus on saxophone and expanded horn arrangements added an additional voice and significant weight to the acid-jazz wanderings of their debut. The aural equivalent of a delicate kiss on the back of the neck, lead track “Life Goes On” gently embraces its listeners with lush bossa nova stylings, a vibe that Thievery Corporation recently resurrected for an American audience with last year’s Saudade. But those four-plus minutes stand as a false sense of comfort, for the following tracks truly embrace the meaning of bossa nova: “new trend.” With the support of pianist Giuliana Pella, vocalist Julie Barton, and programmers Carlo Tenaglia and Marco Scoocchi, 9 Lazy 9 found themselves near the helm of the emerging trip-hop phenomena. The album’s title track and “Very Gently” are ripped from the same dark, woozy astral plane as Massive Attack’s Protection and Portishead’s 1994 debut Dummy. Unlike their contemporaries, Fraser and Braddell never truly committed to that aesthetic. Compared to Tricky’s iconic Maxinquaye (1995), Electric Lazyland didn’t arrive with the charged narrative that has made the aforementioned releases landmarks of the subgenre. But the duo had an almost telekinetic interplay that has been largely unsurpassed in the last 21 years of dance music. While “B Hip & Shop” sounds ready for some long awaited A Tribe Called Quest reunion, selections like “No.2,” “Swingpool” and “High Fashion” have been relegated to Mark Farina-esque Mushroom Jazz sets just waiting for Flying Lotus and some of his recruits to breathe new life into these jazz-meets-beats exploits. After a release on Shadow Records in 1995, 9 Lazy 9 retreated silently into the dusty discographies of devout collectors — the same folks that picked up their subsequent releases in 2003 and 2009. While Fraser and Braddell were major influences on the Ninja Tune sound during the first half of the ‘90s, the pair have unfortunately drifted into the same black hole occupied by so many of their fellow underground dance music peers. But anyone interested in putting today’s dance music industry in context needs to hear Electric Lazyland.