He was a symbol but now he’s a Prince again. But he was a prince among men that came from a surprising scene; one of bubbling funk that rose from the sub-zero temperatures of oft snow bound twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Not known for significant African-American population, this belied a close-knit band of brilliantly attuned tight musicians crafting synthetic soul into future funk, and before it could become Purple Rain the likes of Flyte Tyme, Mind & Matter and 94 East had to thaw out pre-conceptions of slick jazz fusion and wait for the world to catch up. And catch up they did, allowing the scene’s greatest alumnus, the yearbook’s most likely to succeed, one Prince Rogers Nelson ascend to the top of the throne. Good job, otherwise no one could have seen him! On this lovingly compiled collection by class crate diggers Numero Records, on their fiftieth release of musical archivism and re-appraisal, Purple Snow: Forecasting The Minneapolis Sound aims to fill in the knowledge gaps and tie up loose ends in a scene all about tight grooves.
The jump off point was Purple Haze who appear here on this double LP with two songs, later billed simply more as Haze which allowed the colour to be forever appropriated by his royal purpleness, who himself appears here on the peripheries as bit part and session dude including on opening track by 94 East “If You See Me”. He’s also on a couple of jams (feels appropriate nomenclature in this review) by The Lewis Connection, competently tinkling ivories or caressing chords. But this really isn’t about him – even if he, or his lawyers think it is. There’s some real unearthed gems to be enjoyed, including the rough demos for smooth Andre Cymone, Prince’s erstwhile childhood sidekick and bassist, plus a bona fide scene legend in his own right Alexander O’Neal with a tune called “Borrowed Time” that was fat way before he’d piled on the pounds.
Stream 94 East “If You See Me”
Perhaps the best here is an early incarnation of The Time, called Flyte Tyme featuring later to be uber production duo and later Janet Jackson souper-uppers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam Harris. This is getting closer to the purple blue print, but is a world away from the Curtis Mayfield inspired flared funk of Jimmy Jam’s throwback first outfit – the Mind & Matter collective also represented here. But as it says in the weather pun-tastic title it’s “forecasting” the sound, and that sound is very much the sum of its sometimes patchy but always catchy parts. Far more than a Now That’s What I Nearly Call Prince (if that’s what he’s still calling himself) this is a compilation album par excellence and I’ve loved listening to it almost as much as they have curating it. If you’re dreaming of a purple Christmas you could do far worse than slipping this on your wish list for Santa’s Sax. 7.8/10