Jazzanova's music has always been, in some way, about reinvention and reinterpretation. They're best known as remixers extraordinaire, but even their original stuff, from early samba-fueled numbers like "Coffee Talk" to the grab-bag of styles they emptied out on their artist debut, last year's In Between, is usually built around taking familiar sounds and picking them apart until they're rendered into something only vaguely recognizable.
Given Jazzanova's history of such musical alchemy, it sounded like a very promising idea to turn the tables on the German producer/DJ collective and put out Jazzanova Remixed, a double CD's worth of other artists' remixes of Jazzanova tracks. I was especially intrigued to hear about this release since, for my money, In Between was a disappointment, a disc with a handful of classic tracks, but too much filler, too many flashy cut-and-paste jobs that never quite coalesced into decent songs, and too many half-baked guest vocal performances. Maybe some of the talented artists set to work on Remixed, like King Britt and Stereolab's Tim Gane, would be able to excavate a few moments of real beauty from the clutter of In Between.
But while there are many wonderful moments on Remixed, it ultimately suffers from one of the problems that plagued In Between: it's just too darn long. There are only 13 Jazzanova compositions on Remixed, hashed and rehashed over 23 tracks, and while some songs hold up to repeated reinterpretation, like the lovely Victor Duplaix collaboration "Soon", others, like the not-so-lovely Victor Duplaix collaboration "That Night", quickly wear out their welcome.
Most of the tracks represented on Remixed are from In Between, but the highlights actually tend to be remixes of earlier Jazzanova singles, another indication that most of In Between doesn't rank with their best work. Especially nice are a much breezier version of "Fedime's Flight" from Kyoto Jazz Massive and a lusciously smooth remix of "Introspection" by Calm, which skillfully layers in Afro-Latin percussion and a jazzy bassline to keep the track's soprano sax and whistling synths from drifting off into the ether. This is the kind of sound Jazzanova themselves are masterful at creating, and I can't help wishing they'd do more of it, instead reaching so often for the arty, leftfield arrangement.
Of the tracks from In Between, "Soon" proves to be the most durable, turning up on four, count 'em, four remixes that recast the song's sweet melody in some interesting new settings. I was no fan of the original, a stuttering electro-jazz anthem which I never thought created an appropriate environment for Victor Duplaix's soulful vocals, so it was gratifying to the hear the twitchiness of the original massaged out in a sexy, almost R&B-styled version by P Smoovah and a jazzy broken beat joint by Dominic Stanton, a.k.a. Domu. Domu's instrumental dub remix is less successful than his full vocal remix, and a typically hip-hop lite version from former Will "Fresh Prince" Smith's partner Jazzy Jeff also fails to impress, but all four versions are worthy attempts to improve on the original.
"Another New Day" gets the second most attention of any track off In Between, with two remixes and a virtual remake by Doctor Rockit (a.k.a. Matthew "Peace" Herbert) and vocalists Ovasoul 7, who add some lyrics to Jazzanova's instrumental original and redub the track "Another Fine Day". Jazzanova's original was so flawless, by far the highlight of In Between, that it's tempting to dismiss any attempts to mess with it, and certainly "Another Fine Day" is pretty dismissable, a lifeless stab at phuture soul with hackneyed vocals. Tim Gane of Stereolab fares a little better, concocting an ambient (or even "illbient", much as I shudder to use that term) version of the track that replaces its jazzy warmth with Kraftwerkian cool, while Moonstarr funks it up by looping the song's signature riffs over the synthesized kick drums and hand claps of early '80s electro. Both tracks rate as interesting experiments, but they fail the ultimate test of any good remix: They don't really stand up on their own. I can't imagine anyone not familiar with Jazzanova's original finding Gane's or Moonstarr's versions all that interesting.
Far too many of the tracks on Remixed fall into this category; yes, they're clever, radical reworkings on Jazzanova's stuff, but they're so busy being clever they fail to work as coherent songs. Maybe some of the remixers got a little overawed approaching the masters' material, and felt they had to prove themselves worthy by flashing their production chops all over the place. Just listen to the cut-and-paste clutter of DJ DSL's remix of "The One-Tet", another of In Between's better tracks, or Vikter Duplaix's own remix of his Jazzanova collaboration, "That Night", on which a shower of off-kilter beats and choppy samples overwhelm the lead vocal. This is flashy stuff, but ultimately pointless, the dance music producer's equivalent of a self-indulgent guitar solo.
So what else works on Remixed? Well, ironically, perhaps the most mannered cut on In Between, the crooner sound collage "L.O.V.E. and You & I", actually turns out pretty good in both remixes that featured here, a deliciously cool jazz-ballad version from DJ Ghe and an engagingly quirky remix from Madlib that could be an outtake from his recent Yesterday's New Quintet project. Wahoo serves up a remix of "That Night" that actually works, a bouncy slab of old school R&B that finally gives Vikter Duplaix's slightly over-emotive vocal a nicely sexy backdrop. Two remixes of another good non-In Between track, "Days to Come", work well for different reasons -- Ayro's version gives the tune an infectiously groovy house beat, while British broken beat producer Ian O'Brian punches the track up with skittering percussion and percolating synths. And Beanfield's remix of "No Use" is a major highlight, perhaps the only instance in this whole set when an already gorgeous tune is made even more gorgeous by restrained, airy production instead of lots of fussy embellishments.
Let the record also show that two of the biggest talents on this disc, King Britt and Bugz in the Attic, are both swallowed whole by the Afro-jazz noodlings of "Mwela, Mwela (Here I Am)". Neither one of them can manage to make their remix sound noticeably different from the original.
Let's see, what else? Dang, this review is starting to read choppier than some of the remixes. Suffice it to say that while it has its moment, Jazzanova Remixed is an uneven collection that probably only hardcore fans will be able to appreciate. If you're new to Jazzanova, you're best introduction to their work is The Remixes 1997-2000, on which Jazzanova themselves are the remix painters and songs by other artists serve as the canvases. Not every track on The Remixes is a winner, either, but Jazzanova are so good at the remix game that you hardly notice.