Charlie Tate ‘Alta Plana’ (OM, 2005)

Without any announcement at all, Alta Plana appeared in 2005 as a digital-only release and promptly disappeared. I’ve never met a single person who’s heard of it, let alone listened to it, but it’s one of the most amazingly put together downtempo breakbeat albums I’ve ever heard.

Each track contains an astounding array of ambient detail – fireworks, street chatter, trains, a rainstorm, waves, phones ringing, bottles opening, people talking – and is also sublimely produced with crisp, kicking drums, great cymbal-work, sampled piano and strings, electric keyboards and deep-down bass.

The album opener, ‘Dar El Salam’, begins with the sound of a train rolling into a station. Then keys and a mind-bendingly deep bassline kick in, and the whole gorgeous thing takes off.

‘Con Chin’ is insanely catchy, starting with just shakers and bass, then developing into a very mellow groove based around a sampled conversation between an old man explaining to another man that the food he has to offer is free. It’s full of loud birdsong and breaking waves, suggesting a tropical island. Who is Chin? And who is with him? It’s a beautiful mystery.

‘Inassire (Dub)’ circles around the hilarious “harmonica” speech given by Jason Robards in ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’. ‘Don’t You Know’ is the smoothest track on the album and could well be an outtake by TLC. Other flavours on show are the reggae-ish ‘Fe Regi’ (featuring a sample from Barrington Levy’s ‘Here I Come’) and the hip hoppy ‘Ramsden Road’.

When I discovered Alta Plana, I tried to track Charlie Tate down. Who was this guy and what else had he produced? Maybe the cover photo would provide a clue? Where was that photo shot?

It was obviously some kind of salt plane. The title Alta Plana is Spanish for “high plane”. Was that important?

After a bit of investigation, I worked out that the photo must have been taken on the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia, which is indeed high – nearly 12,000 feet high, in fact. That might account for some of the Spanish song titles, like ‘Por Favor Adolfo’ and ‘Viva San Telmo’, although San Telmo is confusingly in Buenos Aires.

Did Charlie Tate live in Bolivia? Or Argentina? Or maybe Dar El Salam (which is in Egypt and not to be confused with Dar Es Salaam, which is in Tanzania)? I’ve literally spent years trying to find out who or where he is, but have failed miserably.

Not only did the album sink without trace, Charlie Tate seems keen to leave no trace either. Whoever you are, would the real Charlie Tate please stand up and take a bow.

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