DeepSoul, Acid Jazz Edition: D'Influence - "Running Away"

DeepSoul's last look at Acid Jazz examines a group who took the genre to new levels of sophistication.
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Some Acid Jazz groups formed many years ago, frequently changing lineups but still containing at least one founding member.  D'Influence differs from this model in that they are a collective, a production team as well as a band.  While they have helmed projects by Mark Morrison and Ultra Naté, their own albums take Acid Jazz to a sophisticated level. Debuting in 1992, D'Influence consists of vocalist Sarah Anne Webb, guitarist and keyboardist Ed Baden-Powell, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kwame Kwaten and drummer Steve Marston. Thanks to jazz-heavy chords and Webb's silky smooth voice, they gained a following for a small but impressive number of albums, reaching their creative peak with 1997's London.  A track from that work, "Running Away," best exemplifies their distinctly urban sound.

Their story begins in 1990, when D'Influence gathered to record their self-released single "I'm the One."  After the song gained traction in clubs and on radio, the Acid Jazz label signed the group; they also struck a deal with the East West America company for worldwide distribution.  Two years later D'Influence finally dropped their first full-length album, Good 4 We, which included the aforementioned "I'm the One."  As Kwaten states on the band's MySpace page, D'Influence aimed for simplicity, or the "power of the stripdown sound.  The stripdown sound means having less. It can blow your vision of the music, the meaning, the meaning and the groove. Ours is the 'back to basics' approach - less is more," he explained.  After a second album, 1995's Prayer 4 Unity, the group switched to the Echo label and two years later released their masterpiece, London

London took D'Influence's music to new heights of sophistication, combining soul, jazz, hip hop, and Latin rhythms to create a funkier kind of contemporary R&B.  Co-written by Baden-Powell, Kwaten, Marston, and composer Stan Webb, "Running Away" provides an ideal showcase for Sarah Anne Webb's jazz-kissed tones.  Exquisitely produced and arranged, it features a salsa rhythm and on-point percussion.  "We don't have to stay / We could be running away / Come away with me / We could be running away to the sun," she coos, her voice caressing the Latin rhythms.  Keyboards play subtle yet beautiful jazz runs, and a sexy sax solo signals the bridge, where Webb can do some improvisation.  It's what Acid Jazz is all about: classic jazz chords, a slightly stronger beat, soul elements in the vocals, and an overall smooth sound. 

British soul's roots run deep, and they eventually branched into Rare Groove and House, among other genres.  Acid Jazz represents another phase in that tradition, leading directly to such modern stars as Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Duffy.  But D'Influence, along with Incognito, Brand New Heavies, and Jamiroquai, helped Acid Jazz grow in popularity and influence.  They all demonstrated how contemporary R&B can be mature, smooth, danceable, and fully modern--all of those terms define Acid Jazz, but they also perfectly describe D'Influence.