Pop Philosophy

Ubiquity Recordings 10th Anniversary; National Novel Writing Month

Groove MerchantsTo much of the music-buying world, the name Ubiquity Recordings is synonymous with acid jazz. Never mind that the company now houses three distinct labels -- Luv n' Haight, CuBop, and Ubiquity -- and releases everything from Latin jazz to synthesizer funk to ambient hip hop. Or that, on Thursday when Ubiquity celebrates its 10th anniversary with a show at Bimbo's, there won't be a single acid jazz band on the bill. In fact, the sound that gave Ubiquity its identity and much of its international recognition nearly caused its demise.

The seeds of Ubiquity were sown in November of 1988, when Michael McFadin honeymooned in San Francisco with his new wife, Jody, and fell in love with the city. "We just gave our notice and packed our things and moved up here," he says. Having DJ'ed extensively in Los Angeles, McFadin expected to get similar work in the Bay Area. "I found it was a lot harder here," he says with a rueful laugh. Instead, the couple bought into Rooky Ricardo's, a Lower Haight record store that specializes in vinyl oldies. After three months, the McFadins started their own shop, Groove Merchant Records, that soon gained a reputation for carrying hard-to-find soul and funk records -- the Beastie Boys even sung its praises in their song "Professor Booty" on Check Your Head. In 1995, the couple sold the shop to a fellow DJ.

The sale gave them plenty of time to focus on their record labels. They had begun with one, Luv n' Haight, in late 1990. It was a way to release older obscurities (such as a 1967 single by saxophonist Nathan Davis) and new dance floor fillers (like Greyboy's groundbreaking acid jazz debut). "They were just records we really loved," Michael McFadin says in explanation. "We had no thought of business or creating some genre. We just wanted to find a record and release it. To our own detriment, most likely, we kept [working] like that for years."

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Song of the Week:
Sample of Nobody's "Shades of Orange (featuring 2 Mex)," from the CD Soulmates. Click the "play" icon in the control console below.

<p align="center"> If your browser doesn't display a control console, <a href="http://www.sfweekly.com/media/2000-11-29/nobody.mp3"> download the MP3 file</a> to be played by a separate application. </p>

Like the song? Find more information, or order the CD, at www.ubiquityrecords.com.

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By 1993, however, the couple had gotten wiser about the business of business. They started the Ubiquity imprint, in part to differentiate between reissues and new music, but also to let reviewers write about all their new releases.

By 1995, the McFadins were looking for new sounds to release. "I got into Latin jazz mainly through Jody's father," McFadin says. While the CuBop records received excellent reviews, they didn't sell much until 1997, when the Buena Vista Social Club movie and soundtrack came out. The ensuing thirst for all sounds Cuban helped CuBop's fortunes. "Of all our labels, it might be the best branded right now," McFadin offers.

By late 1996, the local acid jazz scene was kaput. Ubiquity Radio Promotions Director Vinnie Esparza thinks it was mainstream acceptance that silenced the funky sounds: "When smooth jazz stations started playing it, the whole point of the movement was lost." McFadin says, "When acid jazz went out, it hurt us. We went through some really tough times."

Following the suggestions of Esparza and new Vice President Andrew Jervis, Ubiquity began releasing artists of a more electronic nature. Jervis, currently on tour in Europe, writes in an e-mail, "We moved into new territory, as people started to experiment with where music could go, instead of just recreating times gone by."

For Ubiquity, that new territory included releases by Puracane, a New York trip hop group with chilly female vocals; P'taah, an Atlanta musician who mixed samples with live jazz/funk; and Nobody, a Los Angeles DJ who found the common ground between guitar rock and hip hop. All three artists -- along with Dave Pike & the CuBop All-Stars and U.K. DJ duo Beatless -- will perform on Thursday, Nov. 30, as part of the label's local anniversary party.

After 10 years, Ubiquity is simply another word for quality.

Does an ellipsis count as a word?I've reached the home stretch of National Novel Writing Month (in which writers attempt to compose 50,000 words in 30 days) and it looks like I'll actually finish. I've got 42,948 words written, with two days to go. Back around 27,000 words, it didn't look so good. I hated all my characters, and each new sentence tasted like wormwood. As a remedy, NaNoWriMo club leader Chris Baty suggested I start over with completely new characters (keeping the previous words intact). If the new and old people tied together, great; if not, then I would have created the bold new technique of "parallel worlds."

It worked. Presently, my main character is waiting tables in a strip club/restaurant, where he serves filet mignon to drooling frat boys and day traders, while dancers disrobe to the tune of the J. Geils Band's "Centerfold."

Next week: final words, wrap party highlights, and the best home cures for carpal tunnel syndrome.

 
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