Coming Home by Jazzanova
Coming Home by Jazzanova
Coming Home: the title alone poses the minds behind this compilation series quite a challenge. DJ Hell has flown the flag so to speak, by predominantly featuring music made in Germany (or music related somehow to Germany). Nouvelle Vague, bowing to the history of its name, has taken “home” to mean cinema which is why their contribution to the series consists purely of soundtracks.
The busy-bee producers and DJs that make up the Jazzanova collective have selected tracks they personally like to spin (also) at home: an eclectic world of sound they feel good in. Unlike earlier Jazzanova compilations, the selection this time was made not only by the DJs in the collective Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler and Jürgen von Knoblauch, who also do a radio show under the Jazzanova moniker but also by the producers Stefan Leisering and Axel Reinemer, who have been touring with a 9-man line-up as Jazzanova since 2009. Coming Home thus reveals the multifaceted, inspirational sources of the signature Jazzanova sound.
Jazzanova kicks off, aptly enough, with a piece called “That’s Us/Wild Combination” from Arthur Russell. “It sums us up pretty well”, affirms Alex Barck on behalf of Jazzanova. “Sure, we all have different tastes but a common thread runs through everything we do. Whenever one of us turns up with a new discovery, we can bet our bottom dollar, that it has what it takes.”
Arthur Russell is one of those legendary New Yorker types who, in the late 1970s, was as at home in the city’s avant-garde scene as on the rising tide of Disco. It was with Disco numbers that he made his mark: Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face”, for example, and Dinosaur L’s “Go Bang”. “Wild Combination” shows the softer side of this songwriter, cellist and singer, as well as his openness for musical innovation. “These are pieces that really demand your attention, then smack even more of a punch”, says Alex. “And they tend to be the best pieces: the ones that maybe don’t hit you straight off yet have a much more enduring impact”.
The next piece is practically a fossil from the Stiff label’s archives. Rachel Sweet from Akron/Ohio was just sweet 16 when she won the British label’s talent contest. The label managers were in Akron actually to get condoms made for a marketing campaign but figured they might as well also use the trip to scout out new talent. “It’s So Different Here” is a track from the debut album “Fooling Around”, which then transpired in 1978. It became a little Disco anthem in the UK. Tensnake recently produced a remix.
“Behold These Days, Berlin ’74” is a song from Jazzanova’s soundtrack for the dance-theatre production “Belle et fou”. It pays homage to 1970s Symphonic Soul and particularly to Charles Stepney, who put down groundbreaking tracks with Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton and Terry Callier. For Jazzanova the song marks the transition from a sample-based production style to the organic, lush live instrumentals that made Jazzanova’s latest album, “Of All The Things” an instant classic.
Another man who coolly shoots smash hits straight from the hip is José González. His band project with Elias Araya and Tobias Winterkorn is called Junip. Alex describes it as “the Kraut-y variation on his music. José ranks among those musicians one just cannot find fault with. We support him unanimously”.
The compilation then picks up speed. “How I Got Over” was the first single from the eponymous album by The Roots: a soulful dose of fat Hip-Hop from the band that plays its Hip-Hop live, not pre-programmed. “The Roots’ drummer, Questlove was our first stopover in the States. And we still always drop in on him and his buddy King Britt whenever we go to America. Our roots are in Hip-Hop. And The Roots have hit a perfect balance between Soul and Hip-Hop’s aggressive edge”.
“Bourgie Bourgie”, Ashford & Simpson’ Disco classic re-worked by the John Davis Monster Orchestra, is a permanent feature of Alex Barck’s DJ sets: “Anyone who has heard me play more than once knows that for a fact. The track functions differently in different contexts. On the one hand it’s an absolute dance-floor bombshell but I can also play it to let the audience know I think they’re a bit too stuck-up, a touch too bourgie bourgie bourgeois”.
“Dancing In The Dark” is another little treasure from the Stiff archives. Tracey Ullman is better known today as an actress and comedian but she had a career in the 1980s as a singer too. “Dancing in The Dark” is the B-side of her 1982 hit “Breakaway”. Alex: “I think Stiff Recordings are brilliant; and this number with its big sound and the little voice is very funny and touching”.
The next piece catapults us back to the present: Bodi Bill’s “Tip Toe Walk” in a remix from Siriusmo. “Moritz Friedrich alias Siriusmo is an old friend of ours. And this piece ranks among the stuff we wish we had come up with: a perfect mix of intricate beats and beautiful lyrics.”
Harmonia, the Krautrock supergroup comprising Michael Rother from Neu! and Roedelius and Moebius from Cluster is something of a surprise however. Are Jazzanova secret fans of Krautrock? “This is such a typical German Kraut-Elektronik thing. We’re no experts when it comes to Krautrock but this kind of analogue-electronic interweave is right up our street. And we are also big fans of Krautrock, although for us given the reception history of Techno and Hip-Hop in the States it is more like Black respectively like Dance music. This hippy thing in the music that Krautrockers personify, the free and experimental touch, is something we very much aspire to. They all lived in huts some place out in the sticks back then, simply did their thing and smoked a lot of grass. It was other people who made big bucks from their ingenuity.” “Gollum” is from the second Harmonia album “Deluxe”.
Another country, another genre: the musical contrast between Brazil and Germany could hardly be more striking. Joyce is one of the grandes dames of the sheer inexhaustible pool of gifted songwriters in MPB, Brazil’s popular music, and has been publishing fantastic albums since the 1970s. “Feijao Com Arroz” is a track from her album “Samba-Jazz & Outras Bossas” from 2007, which she recorded with her husband, the drummer Tutty Moreno. “I don’t see a dramatic contrast between “Gollum” and Joyce’s “Feijao Com Arroz”, says Jürgen von Knoblauch. “A lot of people do, for these are very different styles of music. Yet the same soulful feeling runs through both pieces. This is one of Jazzanova’s major talents: to combine pieces from very different musical genres. And the linchpin holding them together is generally Soul”. And Alex adds: “Brazilian rhythms have always been a role model for us, the main inspiration whenever we programme beats. And there are so many talented songwriters in Brazil Marcos Valle, Caetano Veloso and, as we said, Joyce. It is just incredible”.
Soft Rock still leads a wallflower existence in our neck of the woods, and attempts to revive it under the Sunshine Pop label have done little to change that. In America, the Hawaiian Soft Rock band Country Comfort gets lots of airplay, whereas here, one has to look hard to find its records. All the more gratifying therefore, that Jazzanova has brought us the wonderful track “To Be Lonely”. “Stefan has a huge collection of Soft Rock pearls and we’d love to put together a compilation.”
Flying Lotus marks a radical return to the present. Its remix of Andreya Triana’s “Lost Where I Belong” reveals the multi-talented son of Alice Coltrane from his more accessible side. “Chill and Downbeat, which were taken over largely by the House scene, have now ceded place to Dubstep and Glitch Hop stuff. Which is what we listen to these days to come down. Flying Lotus is an exception however. He does an incredible live show with a huge amount of equipment, and he is one of the few people, I’d say, who controls his equipment rather than let it control him.”
Outstanding trumpeter and pianist Sebastian Studnitzky is a kinsman, part of the Jazzanova extended family and, since 2009, musical director of the Jazzanova live band with which he has toured the globe. “Fugato”, a modern BeBop number from the “EGIS” album released in 2010, was recorded and produced solely in the Jazzanova/ Exit Studios, together with Axel. Studnitzky had a totally specific drum sound in mind, which a number of different drummers failed to accomplish, so Stefan promptly programmed the drum solo himself.
The Jazz continues with Carmen Lundy, a singer born in Miami in 1954, and long since an insider tip on the scene. Following a classical education as an opera singer she became a permanent convert to Jazz. “All Day, All Night” is taken from her album “Jazz & the New Songbook Live at the Madrid”, recorded live (as the title says) in Los Angeles. Carmen Lundy’s “Morning Kiss” was the Dingwalls’ record. We could easily have selected another three of her songs. She really is an exceptional talent. That husky voice of hers is so smack on target, her songs are magnificent and I personally have always loved the 80s touch in her music.”
Daz-I-Kue is a member of Bugz In The Attic, part of the small but excellent Broken Beats scene, which, like Jazzanova, uses progressively programmed beats to express its unerring love of Soul and rare groove. “Daz-I-Kue is a veteran companion on the same road as us and we appreciate him enormously. The Broken Beat scene around 4Hero, Bugz In The Attic and so on is one where we have always felt at home. Unfortunately, those guys were never much good at networking and marketing themselves, which is how come other people shot to fame on the stuff they had pioneered. They are a bunch of introverts really, who live only for their music. Dego from 4 Hero told me once that Moodyman is also part of the Broken Beat scene. By which he meant, basically, he is one of the people for whom life at times has been a bit of a rough deal.”
That Jamie Cullum is a virtuoso of a much broader musical spectrum than his status as Jazz wunderkind suggests was proven on his last album “The Pursuit”. His songs attest to mature song-writing skills, honed by diverse influences. The Jazzanova members know him personally and can well imagine working with him in the future. “If I Ruled The World” is a sensitive cover version of a song from a 1963 musical, one better known in the version Tony Bennett released way back when.
Another Jazz veteran steps up for the grand finale. Steve Kuhn is renowned for his impressionist piano recordings on ECM but on this (as he describes it) Fusion Jazz disc, recorded with Ron Carter, Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira in 1971, he sings with touching vulnerability. “The pianist Steve Kuhn made a brief appearance as a singer in the 1970s very successfully, in my opinion. There was something incredibly moving about it. This piece is something I’d include on a mix-tape for a girlfriend, not least because of its title of course, “The Meaning Of Love”. And I must mention Enrico Mercaldi at this point, who did the mastering for the CD at Time Tools Studio, and made a brilliant job of it from start to finish. The songs sound exactly the way they were meant to. Also those remastered from vinyl, this Steve Kuhn piece for example, which was never available on CD until now.”