Domu (Dominic Stanton) is from London and has been building up a solid CV as a DJ and producer within broken-beat and similarly fashionable circles. Voclov (Enrico Criveliaro) is Italian with a comparable career profile but with a reputation as more of a techno man. Together they are Rima and have put together a very JCR sort of album. Nujazz, broken beats, deep house, soul, jazz-funk, and fusion all mingle cleverly, if somewhat too neatly, and indeed the album could be seen as personifying the strengths and weaknesses of the whole nujazz phenomenon.
The strengths of nujazz (in the hands of Jazzanova, Truby, et al.) are a healthy eclecticism and a laid-back contemporaneity that has proved most welcome in this increasingly formulaic, jagged, and repetitive phase of club-based music. Genre-boundaries have come crashing down while musicianship and a new cooler sensibility have been re-valorised. However, NJ has in some instances become very safe, smug, and (in the case of the unfortunately named Nojazz) close to self-parody. A backlash (led by the excellent jazz critic Kevin LeGendre) is under way and Rima might seem an obvious target.
The weaknesses of nujazz, and hence this album, might be said to be (using LeGendre’s critical framework) a lack of adventure, minimal attempts at improvisation and a lazy reliance on digital rhythms. A more mundane complaint would simply state that everything is a little bland and boring. Nujazz is generally rather short on passion and emotional extremes. Taken together the charge is that nujazz is essentially the club-generation’s version of smooth jazz and its perceived failings, vis-à-vis proper jazz or proper “black” dance music, are often critically indistinguishable.
Given that this set is suitably sophisticated and knowing, that it flows along nicely and combines a traditional fusion-based aesthetic with digital rhythms that coax rather than bludgeon you into submission, then this is nujazz as charged. Nor is it the most aggressive thing you’ll hear, even in the rarefied world of the West London scene. However, it is most certainly not insipid. Detractors will seize on its lack of fieriness, but should give it a proper hearing and not confuse poise with lack of purpose.
Where I think Rima rise above the common herd and thus escape some pertinent criticisms is in their choice of performers and their prime sources of inspiration. The former factor is unproblematic; any album that features Julie Dexter and Mark De Clive-Lowe is going to be of interest to followers of soulful dance music. The second is rather stranger. Despite its new millennial digitalism, the most successful tracks are really jazz-fusion grooves. If there are guardian angels behind Rima then they are George Duke and, particularly, Azymuth. This will, as you can imagine, confirm the nu-equals-smooth charge, but I think it gives the set musical and historical depth.
For all the duo’s broken-beat and techno credentials, the outstanding numbers are those like the sprightly Braziliana of “O Vento Dira” or the cool, keyboard-led vibes of Mark De Clive-Lowe’s “Rivers”. Even better are the sax-led assuredness of “Vidigal”, courtesy of Collective Unconscious, and the soulful urbanity of Julie Dexter (on the very sensuous “Let It Go”). Forget some of the album’s more arty “European” aspects (and some dodgy “pop” vocals), and enjoy several engaging fusion work-outs that would sit well in any Patrick Forge or Ross Allen set, past or present.
If you are expecting ground-breaking electronica, look elsewhere. If you want daring improvisatory leaps, try another genre. If you want some mellow, soulboy jazz-funk with a tasteful 21st century re-rub, then Rima have much to offer. The production is crisp, uncluttered yet sufficiently inventive, and there is an equal focus on tunefulness and rhythmic drive. It is not particularly deep; indeed, within this genre, it is refreshingly light-hearted. When old and new combine fully, the resultant sounds encapsulate the many pleasures of cafe bar and club-life at their most relaxed and, as such, are worth an hour of anyone’s time.