Album Review: El Michels Affair “Enter the 37th Chamber” (2009)

El Michels Affair started life as a house band for a small record label Soul Fire Records, before transitioning into a recording 9-piece musical collaboration led by saxophonist and organist Leon Michels. With this, Michels also started his own record label the Brooklyn-based Truth & Soul Records, a record label dedicated to producing and releasing soul and funk material. El Michel’s Affair plays only instrumentals, and their style is a fusion of 60s and 70s soul and funk, Afrobeat and jazz, with some coining this mix of styles cinematic soul. This is something I completely understand as their music does sound very much like the soundtrack to the movie you have never seen. Their sort of loose, raw playing style is very much Meters-inspired, and perhaps also the Roots, something which I guess keeps with their house band origins and suits very much the sorts of instrumentals they play.

This brings me to the album itself, which aside from containing some amazingly good sounds, is also as a concept quite a clever idea and something which definitely caught my eye. This album Enter the 37thChamber is quite a unique album, as it’s a cover album of instrumental versions of Wu-Tang Clan and Raekwon tracks, with the band putting their own jazz-funk slant on the backing tracks and beats of some of hip hop’s classic tracks. From my perspective, this is such a cool idea and something I have often contemplated when listening to hip-hop. Leaving aside the amazing lyrics which you can get with hip-hop, the one thing about this style of music which I have always been sucked into is the quality production, and amazing backing tracks and samples you can find on hip-hop recordings, beats that I have often thought would sound amazing just on their own. This makes El Michels Affair’s attempt to recreate such tracks on this album even better, as they are recreating them by playing them live within the confines of a soul-jazz ensemble; and boy do the band do a more than adequate job in covering such classic tracks as Wu Tang’s “CREAM” and “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” and Raekwon’s (who incidentally helped oversee the production and recording of this album) “Criminology”.

This is such a dope album both concept-wise and musically speaking. It’s music to chill out to, to relax to, to entertain with, and enjoy summer with. I am a big fan of artists who play instrumental music across all styles and these guys with their own unique interpretation of Wu-Tang certainly hooked me. I look forward to seeing what else they have up their sleeve, and what they might put their funky, jazzy touch to in the future. DOPE.


– Sam

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