[14 December 2003]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Koop‘s 2002 album Waltz for Koop was one of that year’s buried treasures, a smooth, seamless blend of electronica and jazz, as the Swedish duo of Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark skillfully straddled both genres, creating a warm, pleasant, accessible album that appealed to both techno fans and jazz devotees. The two styles coexist perfectly on that album, neither overwhelming the other; instead, we’re treated to an easygoing give-and-take between drum samples and live solos, an undeniable dance element and some soulful vocal work. The ease and confidence with which the pair pulled it off was remarkable, as was their economic approach; they kept things incredibly simple, never overdoing the samples, and keeping the album relatively short, quite a rarity in the techno world.
So what next for Koop? Well, like any other techno act, they’ve decided to put out an album of remixes. Remix albums are commonplace these days, as practically every single electronic artist does it, but rarely does a remix album manage to offer any new insight. More often than not, it’s just an exercise in self-indulgence, an easy way to fill up 78 minutes of a CD. Koop, however, have accomplished that rare feat: they’ve compiled a remix album that not only delivers a refreshing, new twist on the original album, but at times actually improves on the original.
Waltz for Koop: Alternative Takes is like an extended, improvised solo, as guest remixers step in, taking the songs on new, often fascinating tangents, without straying too far away from the core element of the original compositions. If Waltz for Koop was a techno-tinged dose of breezy West Coast Jazz and smoky Parisian jazz vocals, then Alternative Takes is more like a jazz fusion exercise. Unlike before, there’s a definite focus on electronica and dance, of course, but for the most part this album stays true to the songs, its ebullience and downright danceability making it come off as a more outgoing, sociable companion piece.
All but one track from Waltz for Koop is given the remix treatment (the instrumental “Soul For Sahib” was left out), and although they’re more than good enough to appeal to first-time listeners to Koop, it’s an absolute treat to hear the new versions when you’re already familiar with the previous album. Mikael Nordgren’s interpretation of “Baby” places the focus more on guitars—as a smooth, walking bass line provides a cool foundation, Nordgren inserts a playful acoustic guitar lick (not unlike Badly Drawn Boy), as well as a wah-wah-enhanced electric guitar riff. “Relaxin at Club F****in”, the most techno oriented composition on the original record, is given a more subtle treatment by noted trip hop producer Richard Dorfmeister, as he tones things down considerably, putting the emphasis on the fabulous, rubbery acoustic bass lick. Rima’s take on “Bright Nights” gives the song a more dance-oriented, house feel, its pounding beat greatly contrasting with the original’s more mellow, nocturnal feel. Meanwhile, producer Kristoffer Berg adds more of a live feel to the gorgeous “In a Heartbeat”, as he adds live drums, electric piano, electric bass, and guitar, working brilliantly with Terry Callier’s stirring vocal performance.
As good as those tracks are, there are a few other remixes on this album that are even better, as the producers take the original melodies and run wild. Nicola Conte’s rearrangement of “Tonight” is spectacular, as he adds a full jazz quartet, as well as a gently frenetic drum and bass beat. The combination is perfect, as we’re treated to a terrific, extended tenor sax solo, working well with Mikael Sundin’s original vocal track. The 2 Banks of 4 remix of “Modal Mile” improves on the original, as Earl Zinger’s Tom Waits-wannabe voice (the weak point of the original album) is replaced by Valerie Etienne, and instead of Zinger’s gimmicky attempt at Beat poetry, Etienne adds more soul and emotional depth to the song. Markus Enochson’s remix of the beautiful, wistful “Summer Sun” is a real revelation, as he takes the jazzy pop of the original, sung by teenager Yukimi Nagano, and adds a funky, rolling, disco beat to the proceedings, stretching the song to nearly seven blissful minutes.
The only downside to Alternative Takes is the tedious remix of “Waltz for Koop”, by DJ Patife. It’s a perfect example of how an overly enthusiastic techno producer can wreck a jazzy melody, as Cecelia Stalin’s sultry vocals are completely overwhelmed by a frenetic, relentless jungle beat that almost drowns out the vocal track. The contrast between the two clashing sounds is a touch uncomfortable to endure for the track’s eight minute duration. Still, despite that one misstep, this album is still worthy of a hearty recommendation, as it revisits one of the best albums of 2002, only this time, filtered through the fertile imaginations of some stalwart producers. You can relax and chill out with Waltz for Koop, but you can dance the night away with Alternative Takes.