European Jazz, Electronic Beats, Worlds of Dub and a Sound Soul Orchestra

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The Quantic Soul Orchestra
Pushin' On
Ubiquity
2005

As the mastermind behind Quantic, Will Holland scored a major hit in electronic and club music circles with last year's Mishaps Happening. Here performing on organ, bass, guitar, sitar, percussion, and saxophone, he leads the Quantic Soul Orchestra, the concert ensemble he formed to "put the funk back in it, through its US debut.

It might be an overused expression, but this is a great party record. Holland the songwriter offers tunes that throb and groove; Holland the producer gives them a warm and punchy sound. Hard-rocking snare drums snap the snaky rhythms of "West Pier Getdown and "The Conspirator (Main Theme) tightly into place. "Get A Move On whippets on an up-tempo boogaloo beat while lead flute stirs up Holland's jam pot.

Holland borrows two cover versions quite unusual for a soul record, music for films composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse: "Hold On Tight and "Feelin' Good, which slides along strings that project a sleek European, but no less soulful, feeling. "Paintings and Journeys also uses strings, and swaps acoustic in for electric guitar, to ride its smooth funk glide.

James Brown's "Cold Sweat sounds like the template for "Pushin' On, its instrumental funk and Alice Russell's steaming vocal creating a proud new soul sister to Aretha Franklin's classic "Rock Steady. Meanwhile, the bass line to "That Goose on My Grave crackles like Brown's incendiary "I Can't Stand Myself (When You Touch Me). From the sound of things, Holland certainly did not miss many James Brown lessons. And if you're going to build a house of soul, it seems wise to start with blueprints from the man who laid the original foundation.

Dub Gabriel
Bass Jihad
Azra
2005

Primarily written, performed and produced by Dub Gabriel, Bass Jihad spans and touches all four corners of the world—if "all four corners means Jamaica, India, the Middle East and Brooklyn.

Gabriel begins this mystical electrical journey alongside Ahad Nazarzadeh-Saaz with "War in the Poppy Fields, a panic of Middle Eastern wind and percussion instruments that drops down into—then yanks the beat back from—spacious reggae chord and echo effects.

All Gabriel's influences—sitar, electronics, percussion, loops and scratches—come together in "Saaz Remains the Same, crashing waves of different musics combining in one cogent piece that is electric and fast-paced like modern life, but also echoes ancient Arabian and African, even Caribbean, tribal cultures. "Rumi Go Through Me constructs from percolating percussion, chirping electronics, sitar and melodica another evocative soundscape typical of this set.

Along with these exotic electric combinations, Gabriel allows different individual threads to shine through, too. "Musique de L'ame builds nimble African percussion rhythms into a soft ambient, almost tender, trance mood. "Dis Song, featuring Kerac and Dave Hill, Jr., is a turntablist's dream shredded through with scratches and loops and thumped from underneath with congas and other acoustic percussion.

Bass is the Place and "Zooklyn rock hard, even with their odd-time instrumental breaks and spirited vocal incantations. More funk music than world music, their coiled and thumping beats move slow and lazy but powerfully—like a panther can move. Tough stuff.

Hipnosis
Carrousel
Perfect Toy
2005

This Munich quintet titled its debut simply Jazz. It was so well received in their homeland that it was subsequently released for Jazz-heads in the UK and Japan, too. Completely composed, performed and produced by the band, this second full- length release showcases Hipnosis' excellent musicianship—especially Wanja Slavin (alto sax, alto clarinet) and trombonist Gerhard Gschlössl up front—in a program challenging enough to feel like a classic post-bop mainstream quintet date, perhaps a little lost in time but not quite anachronistic.

"Nova Express blasts off a high-powered rocket of ensemble playing that flies first class all the way, with saxophone introducing the melody, a melody heated by repeated rhythm section riffing to serve as the launching pad for the horn solos.

"The Opposite of Hamburg and "Prosciutto Di Fama let fly two more wind-jammers, Slavin blowing red-hot counter to Gschlössl's cool as they chase each other through the bebop jam format: Introduce the melody through the opening measures, then run away from the melody as fast as you possibly can in liberating exploration. More of an open construction, "Soul Search opens with saxophone backed only by drums, then slowly folds in trombone and other instruments.

The first two tracks—the title track and subsequent "Dewendiana —showcase pianist Marc Schmolling as soloist and accompanist, especially that second cut, where he kicks the rhythmic pants of both the drums and saxophone!

Schmolling shifts from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes, modernizing the surface of the closing "Nimm Mich Mit through this change of sound and texture. The sound of clarinet and trombone bumping up against this electric keyboard reach back to classic New Orleans Dixieland. But the rhythms and textures Hipnosis adventurously, excitedly explore are more urgently up-to-date than that.

Various Artists
Verve Remixed3
Verve
2005

Annual Verve Remixed projects match trip-hop and electronic music producers up with historic treasures from the label's vaults, to update or contemporize them. This third volume predominantly features female vocalists Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington and Anita O'Day, from among whom Sarah Vaughan gleefully steals the show.

RSL, a sound production team from Manchester UK, reconstructs Anita O'Day's "Sing, Sing, Sing, a Benny Goodman staple written by Louis Prima, smartly repositioning the skittering drums and ascending piano riff as the toe-tapping fulcrum from which O'Day's vocal swings.

The first male jazz performer (nine tracks in!) cooks up a storm: "Stay Loose, a rare track with vocals by Hammond organist Jimmy Smith (he sounds just like Les McCann) remixed to boiling by Lyrics Born, bubbling up its hot-tempered boogaloo drum beat and Smith's unmistakably soulful playing and singing. 3 also features Detroit's Carl Craig, one of the most progressive dancefloor experimentalists in one of the US' electronic music capitals, with a kaleidoscopic cut-and-paste of the title track of Hugh Masakela's 1975 tribute to Fela Kuti, The Boys Doin' It.

But Miss Sarah brings the real good stuff. Max Sedgley lifts "Peter Gunn from the Quincy Jones-produced Sarah Vaughan Sings the Mancini Songbook and plunges Mancini's classic walking piano/bass line and Vaughan's sassy vocal in a cold, deep bucket of echo and attitude. Another genre pioneer, Adam Freeland, whips up Vaughan's "Fever with additional electric bass and guitar and a big stomping beat that almost drives you onto the dance floor.

Other combinations don't work so well. The electronic baubles and snappy beat in which Postal Service cast the title track to Simone's debut album Little Girl Blue just don't sound right around the raw dark agony of Simone's voice, and Sugardaddy's treatment of Shirley Horn's "Come Dance with Me sounds like a child's finger-painting, a jumble of bold, bright colors.

Will the Verve Remixed series help introduce classic jazz material to a new, more young club-going audience? The idea seems worthwhile. Even if does not always work, it still seems worth a try.

Eric Truffaz
Saloua
Blue Note
2005

I am pleased and saddened to report that this is one of the best pieces of music I have heard in 2005. It is a pleasure to have discovered this fifth album in the US for Blue Note, and ninth album overall, by this French composer, bandleader and trumpet player. Yet it is also sad because although this is his fifth / ninth release, it is the very first one that I have heard.

Truffaz works on trumpet, melodica and electronics, and with his longtime band: Manu Codjia on guitars and electronics; Michel Benita on bass and samples; and Philippe Pipon Garcia on drums, parlophone, and samples. Together they create impressive jazz, electronic, funk and world music settings, individually and in combination, while the leader's trumpet playing meets the challenges of all these styles.

Truffaz' trumpet sound, like almost every player since Miles Davis, seems in Davis' lineage: Not blasts from a raging furnace but cool sleek lines that burn no less hot. "Whispering opens in a soft percussion hush, then Truffaz sings a trumpet melody simple and sunny and sad in the brittle melancholic sound of Davis' "Time After Time. "Tantrik busts out fierce ensemble funk-rock, Truffaz completely washing and rinsing his trumpet in wah-wah effects, chopping the echoed trumpet lines back against the beat like a rhythm guitar.

"Yabous creates an exciting new sound churned with hard guitar chords and swirled with turntable scratching; Truffaz' exotic trumpet sound echoes Jon Hassel as it swims through Middle Eastern octaves, chanting in Arabic and rapping in English. Truffaz also easily works the round, lush sound of Kenny Dorham or Blue Mitchell through his trumpet in "Dubophone, though the spirit of lunatic desperate adventurism in its other instrumentation is inescapably Davis.

Five of twelve (nearly half) of these tracks feature vocals / lyrics, sort of unusual for a "jazz trumpet album by someone not named Chet Baker, and VERY unusual because most of them are chanted in Arabic by Tunisian singer Mounir Troundi. Lyricist / vocalist Nya coolly raps solo through "Big Wheel and in "Ines alongside Troundi, whose intense vocal proves positively spine-tingling. Thankfully, the CD booklet prints all lyrics in French, Arabic and English.

From beginning to end, Saloua shines as a brilliant record.

Various Artists
Subharmonic in Dub
Collision
2005

Bill Laswell has composed, performed, and produced just about every style of music known to man—and a few more, too. In the early 1990s, in tandem with producer John Matarazzo (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Tito Puente, Manu Dibango, Fela Kuti, Sly & Robbie), Laswell co-founded Axiom Records.

Through Axiom and its subsidiaries (including Subharmonic and Strata Records), Laswell has explored modern electronic music, including ambient, dub, and funk. This extensive and kaleidoscopic two-CD overview of Laswell's work through this period, with John Zorn, Anton Fier, Nicky Skopelitis and other world-class musicians, embodies Axiom's mantra: "Nothing is true—everything is permitted.

"Everything is permitted except maybe for editing. Three tracks on disc two clock in over sixteen minutes, while the repetitious deep space dub of "Asiyah Dub (Blinding the Starry Yes of God) on the first disc recalls an old joke about progressive-rockers Pink Floyd: Play anything slowly enough, and play it over and over long enough, and some somnambulant and cross-eyed stoner will eventually think, "Wow, that's profound, dude.

This anthology does deliver occasional glimpses into future, possible musics.

"Morning of Balachaturdai by Painkiller (Laswell with saxophonist John Zorn and Mick Harris, drummer for Napalm Death) shoots out like metallic shrapnel the possibilities of combining free jazz with industrial hardcore. Its bass and drum crescendos thunder beneath Zorn's uncharted explorations, as he bleats through his own echoes like honking traffic in the supersonic passing lane. "Morning is almost a musical palindrome that doubles back upon itself, and definitely an instrumental freakout worthy of seminal jazz- rock experimentalists the Mothers of Invention. (I'd suggest that this style might be called "free industrial jazz except that the phrase sounds like it means hearing Kenny G. piped in at the mall.)

The shifting cast of free funk-jazz ensemble Praxis, perhaps the most recognized of Laswell's myriad musical incarnations, includes Buckethead, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, turntablist AF Next Man Flip and drummer Brain. Their groove-infested "The Hook explores tribal electronica, jabbed sharply with turntable scratches and a bass line dropped in from the planet of James Brown's "Licking Stick-Licking Stick.

The songs—rather, the pieces—seem programmed to progress through more and more abstract musical states. The ambient rhythm of "Dead Drop by Cypher 7 (Laswell with keyboard player Jeff Bova and guitarist/producer Alex Haas) is almost completely static, with synthesizer lines whistling melancholy as they hover in this grey rhythmic murk.

"Transfer Complete by Web (Laswell with ambient producer/DJ Terre Thaenlitz) takes the minimalism even further, a piece stripped of rhythm and of melody; not a song, not even music but a soundtrack in the basic sense of the word "sound"—the sound of modern alienation caged in its human machine age.

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