The Sophisticated World of Schema Records

The Sophisticated World of Schema Records
Jakob Baekgaard By

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Schema records was founded in the beginning of 1997 by Luciano Cantone and Davide Rosa. The label's aesthetic profile is described in the following way: "Although the roots of the label are mainly influenced by jazz and bossa nova, Schema has an appeal for all kinds of music and embraces true experimentation since it's the real knowledge of our past mixed with today's technologies that makes the true basis of music making."

The result is music that both looks back and forward. What most Schema-releases share is a sense of sophistication. Many of the records are shaped by attentive producers like Gerardo Frisina and Nicola Conte who know how to create a sound that is both contemporary and fresh and are aware of everything that is hip about the past.

Indefinita Atmosfera

While it is one of the earliest releases in the Schema catalog, the album Indefinita Atmosfera is a perfect example of the luxurious Schema sound. The group Neos likes to travel in many different directions and the musicians create a canvas with a wealth of colors. There is the groovy mixture of Indian tonality, breathy flutes, organ and Fender Rhodes on "Indian Diary" while "Cosmic Groove" is exactly what the title claims: a celestial slice of otherworldly funk in the spirit of Lonnie Liston Smith. The title track features vocalist Kate Jenkin moaning with sensual pleasure as electric bassist Aldo Mella gives rhythmical massage. With classsy touches of samba, swinging jazz, Latin music, funk and fusion, Indefinita Atmosfera is a perfect cocktail of smooth sounds and beguiling rhythms.


More is the second album from the project Balanco by bassist Davide Penta and pianist Pippo Lombardo. Here, they refine their lounge bossa nova sound with ethereal female vocals, sampled beats and hand-played instruments. Imagine Antonio Carlos Jobim as a club owner who caters to a new crowd that has moved from the beach into the balmy atmosphere of a nightclub. Ticking drums, swashes of organ, strings and jazzy guitar is all part of the mix and suddenly the sound of a muted trumpet emerges on "The Bachelor Waltz." Penta and Lombardo are clearly in love with the past and the cinematic sounds of the sixties have a special place in their hearts, but they also make music that feels contemporary and fresh.

Act On

Antonio Carlos Jobim also pops up on the second album by Soulstance called Act On. The Brazilian master is saluted on the track "Inspired by Antonio Carlos," which takes the gentle rhythms and soft guitar musings of Jobim and adds an elegant setting with shimmering Fender Rhodes, strings and a warm, acoustic bass. The talented brothers Enzo and Gianni Lo Greco are the masterminds behind Soulstance. The brothers can play pure modern jazz with a nod to saxophonist John Coltrane, as they showed on Reflections (Schema, 2003), an album which was released under their own name, but here they show a more eclectic side of themselves with traces of bossa nova, Latin music, funk, lounge and soul-jazz. The album is a fine example of the musical gifts of the Lo Greco brothers.

Les Hommes
Les Hommes

A group with the name Les Hommes. It sounds unmistakably French, but behind the name one finds three guys from London who know what it means to be hip. Their self-titled second album is a virtual encyclopedia of cool music from the sixties with a modern lounge touch. The main ingredients are Hammond organ, vibes and percussion. Together they create sensual rhythms with a cinematic feel. A case in point is "The Fourth Homme," a sly reference to Carol Reed's classic film noir The Third Man (1949), which introduces a tasty little organ groove and adds chiming vibes. Another composition, "Pousada Do Amor," contains a short sample of thunder and rain and morphs into a stylish noir-groove. The group makes music for an imaginary movie that is worth hearing.

Rosalia De Souza
Brasil Precisa Balancar

The sensual voice of Brazilian songstress Rosalia De Souza has graced the music of Les Hommes, but she is also an accomplished solo artist in her own right with several albums on Schema Records. Brasil Precisa Balancar finds the singer at the height of her game. She sings sophisticated bossa nova wrapped in lush arrangements by Roberto Menescal, who has also produced the album. The result is an album with an incredible attention to detail and an organic sound. The bossa nova city above them all gets an homage on the composition "Rio De Janeiro" and there is no doubt that this is the real thing. There is the characteristic Brazilian blend of melancholy sweetness and rhythms lighter than air and classic instruments like flutes, warm acoustic guitar, ticking drums, exotic percussion and breezy brass. The album is like a gentle kiss carried through the wind and blown across the sandy beaches of Copacabana.


Toco is another top-notch Brazilian singer on Schema. He is also a guest on Rosalia De Souza's album Brasil Precisa Balancar where he contributes his longing voice to "Voz da Lapa" and "Nem Que Seja A Nado." Memoria is his own statement. The album is a portrait of the artist as an experienced man that looks back. It is an album about his memories, but the music is not old-fashioned at all. Together with his producer Stefano Tirone from the Schema-project S-Tone Inc., Toco has shaped a Brazilian sound that is both contemporary and classic. It is a delicious record with elements of pop, groovy jazz and bossa nova. A string section, electric piano and guitar add atmosphere to an album that brims with poetic perfection.

Steve Evans
2 Sets

Rosalia De Souza and Toco are both singers based in the Brazilian tradition, but the American singer Steve Evans embraces another repertoire on his album 2 Sets. The name of the album gives associations to a live concert and this was in fact the feeling the singer wanted to achieve. Together with his acoustic quartet, Evans achieves a deep level of intimacy and almost spiritual beauty.

Pianist Brad Mehldau has proved that the British folk singer Nick Drake's otherworldly songs are suited for jazz interpretations, but one thing is playing an instrumental version. It is a daunting challenge to face the haunting vocal of Drake. Evans does so on "River Man," "Things Behind the Sun" and "Fruit Tree" and he comes out as a winner. He is a complete singer who can sing everything from folk songs and classical music to standards like "Ill Wind" and "The Night We Called It A Day." His voice has a vocal range that spans deep tones and a falsetto filled with fire that is worthy of Jeff Buckley.

Mario Biondi and The High Five Quintet
Handful of Soul

Mario Biondi is another noteworthy singer on Schema. His album Handful of Soul kicks off with "A Child Runs Free," a groovy, modern bossa nova with rich percussive flavors. The spirit of Brazil lingers on "Rio De Janeiro Blue" where Biondi sings about a lover that is leaving: "I got a feeling I've seen the last of you / Rio De Janeiro Blues." While Biondi is certainly fond of Latin music, bossa nova and blue note jazz, he is also a soul and blues man at heart with more than a handful of soul. His deep, smoky voice is reminiscent of Chris Rea, but Biondi is also an elegant crooner who understands how to sculpt his vocal in many different directions. It is no wonder that the album has been a success. Biondi is born to sing. On the title track, he sings: "If you have to ask / you really don't know what soul is." Suffice it to say Biondi does not have to ask.

Alessandro Magnanini
Someway Still I Do

Part of the success of Biondi's Handful of Soul is due to the high quality of his collaborators. One of the most prominent is the guitarist, producer and composer Alessandro Magnanini who wrote the songs "No Mercy For Me" and the hit "This Is What You Are" with Biondi. Someway Still I Do finds Magnanini sculpting his own ambitious album, but he enlists some highly talented guest stars, among them Rosalia De Souza, who lends her voice to the bossa nova ballad "L'Estate E' Qua." However, De Souza is not the only female guest musician on the album. Stefania Rava, Renata Tosi and Jenny B all add variation with their beautiful voices.

Especially Jenny B brings a lot of power with her rich Shirley Bassey-like vocal on the opener "Open Up Your Eyes" that could have been taken straight out of James Bond movie, with its swirling strings, bursting choir and brass. There is also room for a male vocalist and Liam McKahey's suave crooning is the perfect match for the Burt Bacharach-influenced composition "Livin' My life." Magnanini does not settle for less than perfection and his compositions merge the harmonic sophistication of jazz with an ear for precious pop melodies and orchestral grandeur.

Gerardo Frisina
Join the Dance

Gerardo Frisina is yet another master producer who has been involved with many releases on Schema. His album Join the Dance is an homage to jazz as an art form and a swinging affair. Frisina has a soft spot for groovy Latin jazz and this comes across on "Titoro" with bongos and vibes, but there is also an exploration of an oriental aesthetic on "Mille E Una Notta," which conjures the enchanting universe of One Thousand and One Nights. The highlight, however, is the waltz "Will You Walk A Little Faster?" where Norma Winstone lends her unique voice and starts out with some virtuosic scatting. She clearly enjoys herself and contributes to an atmosphere that is all about the joy of rhythm and swinging melodies. It is hard to resist this invitation to a dance.

Nicola Conte
Other Directions

If there is one name that is synonymous with the successful and stylish sound of Schema, it must be guitarist, DJ and producer Nicola Conte. Conte has been a key factor in shaping the aesthetic of the label as a producer and musician and Other Directions is his masterpiece. The album was originally licensed to Blue Note in 2004, but has been released as a two-disc edition on Schema. The sounds on it are simply luxurious. Conte embraces Chet Baker-like balladry on "Sea and Sand" with trumpeter and singer Till Bronner and deep groove Latin jazz with female vocals on "Kind of Sunshine." He knows the tradition of jazz by heart and creates irresistible musical confections that draw on bossa nova, swing, bop, blues, Latin music and soul. Here, he proves that it is possible to re-introduce jazz into the fancy nightclubs that normally stick to electronic lounge music, but it is also an album with depth and it includes literary references to Jack Kerouac and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Conte himself is a cool musical poet.

Nicola Conte
Free Souls



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