Fuzz, Pomp, and Circumstance
Okay, so no one who considers themselves even remotely contemporary gives a shit about jazz. No one except the fine people at Verve, who saw fit to dredge up this collection of long-forgotten jazz classics, pair them with today’s hottest producers, and unleash the bastard remixes to the world. With the release of Verve Remixed, Vol. 3, the novelty of this jazz/electronic mash-up thing has worn out its welcome. What we get are 13 tracks that substitute jazz’s highfalutin attitude with the more universal beats of electronica and hip-hop.
V3 isn’t what you’d expect after the ambient, arguably more downtempo vibe of the first two instalments. Pry yourself from that past and you might find the album redeeming, if only in the way it veers away from its predecessors with confidence. These songs are even lesser known but the producers, all bona fide beat-junkies, are at the top of their game. But mash-ups live and die in the stitch job and here, the needle work draws too much attention.
Postal Service butcher Nine Simone’s “Little Girl Blue” by wrapping Simone’s hauntingly honey-flavored vocals in a blizzard of jarring blips and bleeps. It winds up being too cold and, although her voice refuses to be lost in the midst of this electronic slop, the experiment fails. More organic in its treatment, the Album Leaf’s remix of Simone’s “Lilac Wine” exceeds expectation. Hitching Simone’s vocals to a subservient beat demonstrates a willingness to build around rather than on top of Simone’s voice, which is how it should be done. Carl Craig’s take on Hugh Masekela’s “The Boy’s Doin’ It” is just plain bad. It drags on too long with a droning techno beat, choking out the Afro-jazz fusion.
Where V3 makes good is with the RJD2, Lyrics Born, and Danger Mouse remixes, which, for the first time in this series, send jazz careening into the ghetto. RJD2’s grim rendition of Astrud Gilberto’s “The Gentle Rain” is grandiose hip-hop instrumentalism at its best. The piano playing is angry, as if someone were stomping across the ebony and ivory keys, and Gilberto delivers her vocals all hot and heavy, but with a modest, almost naive sexuality. All of this gets draped in RJD2’s dense soundscapes, alive and bristling with an emotional texture ripped from a thousand samples. Lyrics Born ups the ante on the Jimmy Smith freak out “Stay Loose”. A rollicking, up-tempo ditty, it lashes out in every direction, spouting fluent jive and inciting boogaloo dance riots.
There was something about the first two Verve discs. Maybe it was how Felix da Housecat’s remix of Simone’s “Seeline Woman” made your life a little more exciting or how Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” was made even drearier. That’s gone now, but what remains isn’t all that bad, just different. Besides, when you reach the Danger Mouse remix of Dinah Washington’s “My Baby, Did You Hear”, you’ll know that Verve did something right this time around. Beginning with a tumbling, unruly intro, it gathers steam before barreling headlong into tinny, synthesizer samples. DM owns this one, pulling up ever so slightly when Washington sings, though not enough for her to dominate, and adding layer upon layer of fuzz, pomp, and circumstance. If this is what we have to expect from the next instalment, bring on the sequel!
// Notes from the Road
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