Funk keyboardist Jo Bartmes leads this left-field find from Germany, and he takes much of the responsibility for the unit's success. He studied classical music in Heidelberg while leading a German funk-jazz group before landing in New York in the 90's. There he honed his skills with teachers like Joe Lovano, Maria Schneider and Fred Hersch, while hitting the club scene pretty hard. Back in Germany since 1999, he's been spreading the gospel of Bartmes.
This one fits right in with what the German Ãœber label, Compost Records, has become known for-spacy, soulful drum'n'bass and ambient, nujazz grooves in the vein of Jazzanova and Koop. But it's a cut above. So good, I'd venture a guess that Bartmes has been making a conscious effort to not be picked up by a European dance music label, perhaps to more fully realize his vision. Truth be told, I've been sifting through Compost's pile for a band filling the very niche that Bartmes absolutely jams full-a Rhodes-based, Headhunters-inspired, headtrip band that incorporates more jazz than vibe into the musical equation.
Evidence comes in the form of "Gone" into "rrrrt, rrrrt" - specifically, the Rhodes work on both pieces. Both feature the attention to detail with the sound of the instrument that marked its flourishing heyday - a seemingly hot-rodded axe spewing magnified percussiveness and splendid spaciness, sucking us into that '70s electro-funk vortex -let's call it the swirl factor. While "Gone" is merely a vamp over a repeated phrase by doublebass groovemeister Sebastian Gramss (who proves throughout he's another Sebastian/bastion of the groove, recalling Seb Steinberg of Soul Coughing), Jo Bartmes turns it into a harmonic excursion, taking us on a journey through the same vamp-based funk solar systems that Herbie and say, George Benson or Roy Ayers, so blissfully guided us through in the past.
"rrrrt, rrrrt" sounds like it's spelled, as though Bartmes has his moog in a chokehold and is wrestling it to the ground, while the rhythm section never breaks its subtle yet vicious drum'n'bass stride, abetted by a tinkling sequence, then a dub bass line. The Rhodes solo hits with a blast of 64th notes that would be ruthlessly edited out by the usual electronica label. That would be a shame, because this solo shows how prodigious instrumental technique can slam up against atmospheric groove extremely effectively, both viscerally and rhythmically. Check out the three minutes of "me we," tantalizingly exploring a vibe that almost single-handedly legitimizes the concept of the jazz/lounge crossover.
A "mystery" thread runs through this recording in the form of samples from the soundtrack to the definitive documentary on the world's greatest pugilist-poet. In fact, the title of the record is the entirety of his most noted piece. Like the protagonist, these guys say what's on their mind, do their own thing and can back it all up -floating on 'tronica, stinging with jazz, never letting trendiness catch 'em fully on the chin.
Visit Bartmes on the web.
Personnel: Jo Bartmes-keys, Sebastian Gramss- bass, John Bollinger-drums, with Kalle Kalima-guitar, Frank Spaniol-saxophones, Christina Lux and Nina Wurman, vocals