We would never say that you should judge an album by its cover, but if you want to know what Henri Pierre Noël's album One More Step sounds like, the picture on the front of the album is a good place to start: the man himself, behind his piano sporting a shirt with gigantic, late-disco collar and sideburns to match. This, Noël's knowing smile seems to say, is how the turn of the '80s should have sounded: percussive, funky and eminently danceable.
Born in Haiti, Noël relocated to Montreal where he recorded the album Piano in 1979 and One More Step in 1980. It was also in Montreal where DJ Kobal came across copies of the original albums, which had only received a very limited private pressing previously. Kobal took the albums to the U.K. record label Wah Wah 45s, which has now reissued both of them. Piano came out in 2012, and One More Step dropped this year.
Despite being recorded in Canada, you can hear Noël's homeland coming through everywhere on One More Step. As the record played in Afropop HQ, we were just getting into “Will Come A Day” when senior producer Sean Barlow walked in and correctly noted that the song was borrowing a Haitian konpa rhythm, before asking us what we were listening to.
Noël exhibits a lot of range on One More Step. Centered around his piano, the music borrows from disco and Afro-funk, influences that are especially noticeable in the horn arrangements. The album is suffused with lively—occasionally even heavy—percussion, freeing Noël's piano to bounce around, through, and off the beat. “Roller Skate Rhapsody” is breezy jazz reminiscent of the albums Vince Guaraldi made with Bola Sete, albeit without a guitar. On “Dialogue” the percussion gives way to a simple drum beat and a melody that descends slowly and deliberately. The track wouldn't sound out of place on a Robert Glasper album.
Now in his 60s, Noël is touring the U.K., impressing Europe as both a gifted musician and, by all accounts, a super nice guy. To judge from the general reaction, there's nothing dated about One More Step—even if sideburns and gigantic collars are on the outs.
One More Step is available from Wah Wah 45s.