As the months pass slowly into years, it becomes increasingly plain to all concerned that Tosca is not merely a “side project” for Richard Dorfmeister. Tosca have released four albums (one of which, Dehli9, was even a double) and a handful of remix discs. They’ve been extraordinarily prolific and have maintained an enviable level of quality. The only problem is, of course, that people like me keep referring to Tosca as a “side project”, because what we really want is a new Kruder & Dorfmeister album. Well, it’s been six years since K&D dropped their epochal K&D Sessions album, and since then we’ve heard nary a peep from the duo. Peter Kruder has his Peace Orchestra project, Dorfmeister has Tosca, and they’ve both done piles of remixes. Just not together, not anymore.
Of course, all this has the net effect of shortchanging Dorfmeister’s partner in Tosca, Rupert Huber. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but he wasn’t part of the duo that revolutionized downtempo music, reinvigorating both acid jazz and trip-hop in one fell swoop with a series of blisteringly hot remixes and a precious handful of original tracks. For similar reasons, it must have been hard to get too excited about Wings in the early ‘70s, when pretty much everyone just wanted the Fab Four to kiss, make up, get over it and get back together. If the comparison seems specious, well, I don’t hesitate to say that in their admittedly limited sphere Kruder & Dorfmeister were as influential and as exceptional as the Beatles were in theirs. I’d rather listen to the phenomenal K&D remix of Lamb’s “Trans-Fatty Acid” than “Hey Jude” anyday.
But there’s no use crying over spilt milk. I’d be a poor critic if I couldn’t put aside my prejudices when considering the album at hand.
J.A.C. is a fine example of some of the best downtempo music being made today. The Viennese G-Stone sound is alive and well, and the label’s trademark luscious basslines, funky jazz breaks and infinitely deep percussion are in full effect on J.A.C.. The album plays well as a cohesive unit, beginning slowly before ramping up to a more energetic middle section, and finally sliding into a relaxed denouement.
The album begins with the chilled groove of “Rondo Acapricio”, which hews as close to the classic G-Stone template as imaginably possible—lushly restrained funk beat, spacey dub atmospherics, odd vocal samples floating in the ether. After a sleepy exercise in regrettable lounge-worthy cheese that comes in the form of “Heidi Bruehl”, “Superrob” features !K7 stalwart Earl Zinger doing his best Maxi Jazz impression over a mid-tempo funk-house beat.
“John Lee Huber” introduces a harder sound, with an uncharacteristically deep trip-hop shuffle-stomp. The jazzy elements return on the vigorous “Pyjama”, built off a frenetic snare pattern and tasteful jazz guitar licks. It’s got some thumping bass as well. “Damentag” is almost straight disco, complete with cheesy new-wave synthesizer flourishes and a spry, melodic bassline. This could conceivably be a club hit with the right remixers.
The last third of the album introduces a far more somber and melancholic tone. After a string of relatively up-tempo numbers, “Naschkatze” introduces a note of ominous dub, with backwards guitars and strangely mordant synthesizer riffs. When the beat picks up on “Zuri”, the mood is less hedonistic than whimsical, almost romantic. “Sala” and “Forte” continue the trend until the album finishes with the meditative, almost psychedelic minimalism of “No More Olives”, which consists of undulating waves of synth noise offset against disconsolate guitar and sketchy, barely accentuated percussion.
There can be no doubt that Tosca are very good at what they do. While it is true that there are precious few surprises on J.A.C., there is also a satisfying professionalism that leaves the listener with a refreshing cosmopolitan buzz. If it lacks the gravity of past projects, settling for a pleasant conviviality over a more pressing urgency, well, such is life.