Music

Various Artists: Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked

Dan Nishimoto

Following in the footsteps of the Verve Remixed series, Impulse! opens its vaults to the young lions.


Various Artists

Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked

Label: Impulse!
US Release Date: 2005-10-25
UK Release Date: 2005-10-24
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When I first began learning to play saxophone, my teacher placed equal emphasis on listening. So, he introduced me to a cat named Bird. Through Bird, I discovered a host of other musicians with equally mysterious names: Monk, Diz, Lady Day, and so on. After a couple years, I noticed they had all recorded for the same label: Verve. Sure made CD shopping simple. Like stocking up on cooking essentials, Verve provided my first tools in preparing jazz.

A few years later, my teacher hipped me to another cat: Trane. Trane was certainly a whole different breed. Where Bird wafted, Trane collapsed. Where Bird cooed, Trane shrieked. Where Bird sighed, Trane suffocated. The ride was bumpy, but absolutely enthralling. Subsequently, Trane begat a new host of enigmas: Pharaoh, Archie, Sun Ra, and on and on. And, sure enough, I found that these brothers shared their own digs: Impulse! Where Verve gave me my first taste, Impulse! brought a heavy-handed refinement to my palette.

My story is undoubtedly familiar. Numerous other jazz enthusiasts have made the same journey because of the path's chronology. Each label's apogee corresponds with a different time in the progression of jazz music. Concert promoter Norman Granz created Verve in the '40s to collect name talent under one roof, lending the label a mainstream showcase quality. Nearly 20 years later, with jazz further diversifying, producer Creed Taylor dedicated the Impulse! imprint to "The New Wave" and subsequently highlighted works from the genre's deepest explorers. Thus, the idea that each label can draw a listener further in seems understandable, almost to be expected.

This continuity appears to be explored as Verve makes the transition from the Verve Remixed series to the new Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked. Where the former series interpreted the likes of Nina and the Cat for today's advertising generation by coating each acetate with a glossy sheen and buffering each note with ProTools©, Impulsive! plays up the art-house sensibility of the Impulse! roster by emphasizing the producer-as-auteur. Instead of faceless house Mingus remixes, critically-lauded artists, such as RZA, Kid Koala, and SA-RA Creative Partners, fill a roster of talent from today who are spiritually in tune with yesterday's jazztets. Greater freedom is given to the collaborators, as several interpretations either completely rework the original or are wholly original compositions (Ravi Coltrane and Julie Patton set music to a poem by his father). Thus, while Impulsive! bears similarities to its predecessor project in terms of form, its musical direction is appropriately different.

Fortunately, the leaders of Impulsive! present themselves as disciples rather than interpreters, thus maintaining a degree of creative integrity for both the remixer and remixed. RZA's crack era grit hardly resembles the narcotic wild man blues of Mingus, but Prince Rahiem demonstrates the similarities in their swinging majesty by chopping "II B.S." into percussive bits of bass pulls. Slouched over and breathing heavily, drool practically oozing off the lower lip, RZA's "Bounce Mix" shifts restlessly at the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting like a young buck rearing and kicking to be released from his master's hold. Similarly, Chief Xcel's make-it-simple sonic credo appears to stray from Archie Shepp's hit-em-upside-the-head '70s outbursts, but the two find unity over a common subject that both have paid recorded tribute to, Attica. X collages choice bits of Shepp's tense strings, exploding breaks, shirt-ripping vocals, and his own dirt-dawg tenor, finding common ground in fury and release.

The new style is hardly a complete middle finger to past values, holding reconciliation a generation's arm's length away. Kid Koala builds Yusef Lateef's "Bamboo Flute Blues" back up from scratch (no pun intended), twiddling each instrument into a flittering mush of abstraction that searches endlessly for new sound, much like the original multi-instrumentalist. SA-RA captures the frenetic energy of George Russell's NYC ode, "A Helluva Town", by going to town with a Propellerheads-like take that grand theft auto races down B'Way while popping Bennies all the live long way. Telefon Tel-Aviv conducts and filters a completely new orchestral arrangement of Oliver Nelson's classic "Stolen Moments", wafting in mere hints of the original bridge, yet adhering always to its modernist beauty. Similarly, Ravi Coltrane keeps father in mind while playing for self on "At Night", a kind posthumous tribute of sorts.

While this remixer-remixed integrity remains consistent throughout, Impulsive! slips when its collaborators fail to push their own boundaries. Mark de Clive-Lowe adds little more than a gentle bump to Chico Hamilton's rolling "El Toro" while Gerardo Frisina loses track of Dizzy's charming goof on "Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac" by beating it to Lincoln Mercury monotony. DJ Dolores boosts the percussive aspect of Chico O'Farrill and Clark Terry's "Spanish Rice", but unnecessarily works an otherwise cool track into a lather. However, in each of these missteps are otherwise decent productions, which maintains the overall quality of the compilation.

Certainly, the commercial aspect of this venture should not be lost amidst the praise. Considering that both Verve and Impulse! are part of the same company, the idea of revisiting the house catalog with the help of some younger friends seems, well, easy. However, Impulsive! deserves credit for making several notable pairings and rightly offering a degree of creative freedom (artists were also allowed to make their selections). Considering the critical weight surrounding many of Impulse!'s efforts, each remixer wisely avoids recreating the form or accomplishments of their sampled subject. Instead, they opt for clever tributes to their creative godfathers (no ladies featured here, at least this time around). Should Impulse! choose to continue exploring its vaults, hopefully it is with continued or even greater verve and spirit.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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