When you hear the new album by Swedish duo Koop, your first instinctive thought is, "This is a jazz album." Even when you notice that this CD is filed under the electronic category in your local record store, when you give it a listen, you're thinking this is a jazz album. Techno, jazz, acid jazz, call it what you will; the bottom line is, these guys from Stockholm have created the most seamless combination of jazz and electronic I have heard in a very long time.
Members Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark let the jazz do its thing, smartly keeping the electronic enhancements to a minimum. Yes, there are samples (primarily the drums and the odd bassline here and there), but Koop know the purpose of the samples are to provide the rhythmic foundation, with live instruments like bass, flute, vibes, bongos, and the five guest vocalists providing the soul. The result is an album that sounds incredibly natural, with more focus on structure than improvisation. Not to say that it's stiff; contrarily, Koop combines various influences from several forms of jazz, such as modal jazz, bossa nova, big band, West Coast "cool" jazz, silky-smooth European jazz vocals, and John Coltrane-styled solos, turning it all into their own version of jazz fusion.
It's the often-brilliant work by the guest vocalists that immediately wins you over. Cecelia Stalin opens the album with "Waltz for Koop", singing breathy lines over sampled strings and a nifty little 6/8 bass sample that runs for the song's entirety, setting a supercool modal groove. Koop reprises the same formula on "Baby", with Stalin again providing ultra-sultry vocals, over live bass this time, but this time around, midway through, the song breaks into a light flute solo over a gliding, walking bassline. Mikael Sundin sings on "Tonight", contributing his own low-key Chet Baker vocal impersonation, while Koop provides a Brubeck-like 5/4 piano riff as support. The greatly underrated jazz vocalist Terry Callier sings on the Latin-tinged "In a Heartbeat"; this time, the arrangement is more spare, with slightly more emphasis on the techno aspect of the music. The song is all Callier, as he infuses the tune with emotion; like Koop, it doesn't take much effort for Callier to get the feeling across, and his simple, relaxed delivery blends well with the understated backing music. The album hiccups very slightly on "Modal Mile", where English singer Earl Zinger does the Beat poet/barfly schtick that Tom Waits nailed over twenty years ago. Zinger does it well, and his lyrics are charming enough (much in the same vein as Canadian poet/singer Ralph Alfonso), and Koop provide a typically dusky arrangement, but their only crime is, we've heard this all before.
The real revelation on Waltz for Koop, though, is 15 year-old singer Yukimi Nagano, who floored me on the two songs she sings. On the splendorific "Summer Sun", a song so pretty, so sunny you'll swear you've heard it before, Nagano's voice, sounding twice her age, carries the entire tune. It brings to mind similar music from those old Brigitte Bardot movies; simple, crooning, jazz lite, with lush horns, swirling strings, and some cute scat singing. As Nagano sings, "My life once a misery / But now your love has set me free", you can practically see her smile. Nagano also closes the album with "Bright Nights", sort of the counterpoint to "Summer Sun". Over an arrangement that includes a brushed-snare sample, a minimal, two-note bassline, and entrancing vibes, Nagano conveys a more middle-of-the-night, moonlit, deserted beach type of vibe that'll have you floating. We need a solo album from this young lady. Fast.
There are also two neat little instrumentals on the album: "Soul for Sahib", a tribute to jazz flautist Sahib Shihab, during which, over a swingin' walking bass, guest musician Magnus Lindgren pulls off a virtuoso flute solo of his own, as samples of Shihab himself explaining his music bookend the piece. The most techno-oriented song on Waltz for Koop is "Relaxin' at Club F****n", providing a more house-styled beat as an acoustic bass sample plays, and a sax solo is improvised. Thankfully, the electronic arrangement still manages to take a backseat to the solo instead of drowning it out with pulsating beats; here, it's more of a light thump.
As an added bonus, this new version of Waltz for Koop also comes with a special DVD, where you can either watch the excellent video for "Summer Sun" (created by Stylewar, who are responsible for great recent videos by the Hives and Millencolin) and the clip for the tune "Glomd" (directed by Stina Nordenstam, of all people), from the album Sons of Koop. The DVD also has audio remixes of both "Summer Sun" and "Relaxin' at Club F****n", a photo gallery, and a bio of Koop, and is a great little addition to an already highly enjoyable album.
You've got to love Koop; not only have they proven themselves extremely capable of creating a very accessible fusion of jazz and electronic music, but they're also outspoken opponents of something plaguing modern music today: the overlong CD. Instead of packing 70 minutes' worth of musical overkill on an album, Koop keep things nice and simple on Waltz for Koop, with only nine songs, totaling 34 minutes in length. The result is a record that leaves you craving more, but your only option is to hit the repeat button and play this album again. And again. And again. Within two hours, you'll be completely won over. It's that intoxicating.