When the individual producer or remixer’s signature style dwarfs the original source, then the exercise is futile. Fortunately, these remixers know when to turn the bass down for Lady Day.
Die-hard jazz traditionalists who quake with righteous fury when their jazz gods and goddesses receive an electronic upgrade are suggested to stop reading. Yes, we know that Billie Holiday on 78s is true, and those who need hip-hop or house beats underneath don’t really understand or appreciate jazz. For those low-brow listeners (read: open minded), Billie Holiday: Remixed and Reimagined is a respectful and creative approach to the work of one of the 20th Century’s greatest singers.
Remixed jazz projects have gained popularity recently and run the gamut from excellent, such as Verve Remixed, to downright disappointing, such as Jazzanova’s take on the Blue Note catalogue. The Remixed and Reimagined series, which kicked off with an update of Nina Simone’s catalogue, is by far one of the best electronica treatments of classic jazz. It lacks the pulsating momentum that the Verve’s house measures and Blue Note Revisited’s hip-hop beats brought, but the series has a surprising fluidity considering the range of producers/remixers who lend their interpretations.
What will make the album so enthralling for electronica and jazz fans alike is its balance of both styles. Swingsett & Takuya's mid-tempo “I Hear Music” maintains the old-time swing by keeping the trumpet solos the focus and the hip-hop beats secondary. Although strong, many remixes found on Verve and Blue Note compilations immediately strike the listeners as remixes, whereas tracks on this album ring more authentic. The snippets of audience applause and band leader comment lend Jazzem’s “More Than You Know” a live feel. Things get really swinging with Lady Bug Mecca (of Digitable Planets fame) and Roland Richards's reconstruction of “Spreadin’ Rhythmn Around’. Mecca’s singing doesn’t distract, and complements Holliday’s chorus.
Conversely, GTR's dreamy and layered remix of “Long Gone Blues” feels almost too electronic compared to the rest of the album. The strongest remixes are the ones that retain the swing flavor of the original recordings. For instance, Nickodemus and Zeb’s shuffling trumpets with a touch of dub create a haunting jive, which could fit either a senior citizen dancehall or urban lounge.
Organica’s soothing but ultimately lazy reworking of “Summertime” is a far cry from the UFO remix of Sarah Vaughn’s cover. The Organica version is too stripped-down and lacks the menace necessary to make the song mesmerizing. That shimmy of a cosmopolitan lounge is found in Madison Park’s “I’m Gonna Lock My Heart (And Throw Away the Key)". Their approach isn’t anything spectacular, but their decision to cut the background music and let Holliday’s voice come through is unique. It says something about the approach to remixing jazz classics in general. When the individual producer or remixer’s signature style dwarfs the original source, then the exercise is futile. Fortunately, these remixers know when to turn the bass down for Lady Day.