Various Artists: Masters at Work Present Latin Verve Sounds

Tim O'Neil

Various Artists

Masters at Work Present Latin Verve Sounds

Label: TVT
US Release Date: 2004-06-22
UK Release Date: 2004-06-21

Verve seems to be doing as good a job as any of the extant jazz labels at keeping their rich and varied catalog an ongoing concern. It's no secret that jazz sales are down and have been going down for quite a while now. Every attempt to try and reach past the aging jazz demographic is an attempt to create inroads into new audiences that represent the industry's lifeblood.

Verve's ongoing Remixed series is probably the best example of this type of cross-generational promotion. By taking some of the crown jewels of the company's voluminous catalogs and giving them to hand-picked remixers from across the spectrum of modern electronic music, Verve succeeded in connecting the conceptual dots between their well-established jazz tradition and the upstart electronic scene. Judged from a purely aesthetic level, both volumes in the Verve Remixed series are amazing achievements, and incontrovertible proof that the jazz of our forefathers remains as vital and important today as it was many decades ago.

This disc before us appears to be an offshoot of that particular brand. The popular and long-lived house production team Masters at Work (AKA Kenny Dope and Louie Vega) here provide a guided tour of Verve's corner of the Latin jazz world. There's also a MAW remix of Willie Bobo's "La Descarga Del Bobo" tacked on at the end of the disc.

I must admit that this disc reinforces a long-standing prejudice of mine. As producers, DJs, remixers and compilers, MAW remain an absolutely unbeatable team, and this expertly selected compilation is no exception to that rule. While most of house music (and electronic music in general) is focused on an endless love affair with the New & Different, MAW are those rare artists concerned with paying more than just lip-service to their historical antecedents. (The other part of that rule, in case you're wondering, is that while MAW are wonderful at most things, they remain stridently unable to craft original material that is even slightly memorable, but this does not apply here.)

By selecting MAW to produce this compilation Verve has chosen to shed a spotlight on one of the more interesting chapters in the development of house music. If you asked most people what the defining characteristic of house music was, they would undoubtedly answer "the beat". And by "the beat" you could probably take it to mean that they were referring to the distinctive pulsing 4/4 that runs under house music (in addition to every other genre that evolved from house).

But this beat was no simple development. In the Paleolithic era of house music, the straight 4/4 of disco was merged and spliced with the rhythms of reggae, new wave and funk. But the most important element in this multi-ethnic stew was the strange syncopation of the Latin shuffle, which grew out of the traditional Latin jazz movement and into the worlds of house through subgenres such as freestyle and (New York) garage.

This compilation has been chosen with an eye towards the evolution and progression of these Latin rhythms into the modern house organism we know today. Tracks like Dave Pike's "Sanduga" (one of two Pike songs included) illustrate how melodic and harmonic elements can be folded into the service of percussive rhythms. "Ritmo Uni" by Cal Tjader and Eddie Palmieri (also one of two tracks by Tjader and Palmieri) links the Latin beat to a more familiar jazz idiom, with the traditional arrangement of trumpet, piano and xylophone interacting with a masterfully coruscating rhythmical bedrock.

It would be hard to screw this compilation up, and indeed, it succeeds masterfully. You can accept this as merely another sterling collection of undeniably funky Latin rhythms, or a sonic history lesson from one of the most elegantly deferential duos in electronic music.

If you want to understand the very simple lesson here, just listen to the original version of Willie Bobo's "La Descarga Del Bobo" side by side with the MAW remix. The latter is very similar to the former. They wisely choose not to simplify the irresistible beat of Bobo's original, but merely to emphasize different parts in order to create a slicker and more DJ-friendly version of what is, essentially, the same song. Here is the remixers art at its best: they merely serve to accentuate the best qualities of their source material in order to make it fit into a new musical context.

Masters at Work Present Latin Verve Sounds is living history at its finest. Once again, the Verve label deserves our kudos and respect for showcasing why their jazz remains resolutely contemporary in the face of changing tradition.






Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.