Various/Gilles Peterson and Jazzanova - The Kings of Jazz

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I recently wrote this review for Stylus, only to discover that the album's tracklisting as released is not the same as the promos which BBE sent out. I still like what I wrote, however, and I presume the album as released is still pretty good - so here's my original review.


Acid jazz didn’t die.

That’s the first revelation taken from The Kings of Jazz, BBE’s latest entry in their Kings of series (which has already encompassed Disco, Funk, Hip-Hop and House). For this volume, UK DJ Gilles Peterson was asked to curate the “History” disc while Berlin-based Jazzanova take on the “Present.” Jazzanova, no strangers to acid jazzishness themselves (check some of their recent The Remixes 2002-2005 for proof), show and prove with selections such as the Chateau Flight Remix of Pavel Kostiuk’s “Brand New Day.” Nope, I don’t know who that is, either, but I know that (especially thanks to vocals from Vanessa Freeman) this could damned near be 10-year-old Brand New Heavies. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. And while Rima’s “Modern Times” (featuring Ian O’Brien) isn’t smooth jazz, it certainly flirts with its early, fusion-etched years (think mid-‘80s Pat Metheny, or even Paul Hardcastle’s “Rainforest,” with which “Modern Times” shares some DNA).

The biggest thing that Jazzanova’s disc has going for it is diversity-cum-eclecticism. Carlo Fashion’s “Muster Für Kammerorchester” is just barely on this side of the jazz-classical divide, as wildly opposed to a track such as Nikki O’s “Butterflies,” which is equal parts Erykah Badu and Roy Ayers (specifically “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”). You won’t find any names from the current jazz best-seller charts here, but trainspotters may appreciate the appearances from the likes of 4 Hero (their classic jazzy drum’n’bass cut “Spirits in Transit”), Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra (“At Les,” the second cousin to Rythim Is Rythim’s “Strings of Life”), and the Matthew Herbert Big Band (“Everything’s Changed,” with no less than Jamie Lidell on vocals). This disc, in fact, is most likely to appeal to fans of downtempo electronica; it works particularly well as a chillout record. Again, not a bad thing.

For his disc, tastemaker extraordinaire Gilles Peterson – he founded Talkin’ Loud Records, for pete’s sake – keeps things fairly classic, taking in Rashann Roland Kirk (choral number “Spirits Up Above”), Bill Evans (the quietly lovely “Peace Piece”), Art Blakey, and artists who only need last names to be recognized: Coltrane, Mingus, Dolphy. ‘Trane’s 1960 “Equinox” shows the saxophone God in bluesy, reigned-in mode, and makes a fine companion piece with Eric Dolphy’s “Fire Waltz,” 13:21 of finely swinging bop.

Peterson’s disc, in fact, while spanning from the ‘50s to the ‘80s, seems firmly grounded in the ‘60s, which many still claim was the genre’s peak decade. Listening to it, I’m taken back to my teenage trips to the local college library, where I’d thumb through old issues of Downbeat and listen (with those massive, heavy rubber headphones) to scratchy old records deemed “classics” – which, fortunately, started my education in the likes of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. Yes, both discs of The Kings of Jazz are eminently tasteful (and in some ways, classic, too), but in this case, that’s a very good thing.