Various Artists: Space Jazz

Shan Fowler

Various Artists

Space Jazz

Label: Quango
US Release Date: 2001-08-21

Labeling something jazz or rock or rap or blues or anything else is a tad arbitrary. It's been a long time since genres of popular music stopped being genres and simply started being linguistic placeholders for similar sounds and styles. That's usually the main way music gets its names in the first place -- through an attempt to put into written language something that is purely an aural experience. The result are words that help us understand what we're hearing.

What Quango wants us to hear on the latest in its series of "lifestyle music" compilations is Space Jazz. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that what the name is pointing to is something weightless, something dark, something slow and deliberate, something with a mini-ensemble of instruments that flicker and glide more than they jump and explode. As arbitrary labels go, it's an apt description.

As with its other recent compilations (Mystic Grooves, Cosmic Funk and Brazilified among them), Quango aims for the witty, urbane set with this compilation. Cosmic Jazz is too atmospheric and scripted to play in the foreground, but as background music in a penthouse filled with angular furniture, chrome appliances and windows that look out on a dirty world that is diametrically opposed to the antiseptic world inside the windows, it's perfect: hidden, but not hiding. Cosmic Funk, in combination with designer jeans and a subscription to Wallpaper magazine, won't make you a better person, it'll just make you look like a better person when your friends are over.

And that ain't all bad. Who says musical escapism always has to be something drastic? Why should I have to be the King of Rock or King of Rap or King of Disco when all I feel like being is the Duke of Cool? Not all rides have to be a roller coaster; sometimes all we need is a slow float above the atmosphere.

Space Jazz sets us floating right off with a remix of the Tosca classic "Chocolate Elvis", a debonair vibemaster that sounds like foreplay in action. The smoky sax, flute and strings that follow on Akasha's "Mescalin" finish the job with the subtlety of a wink, and then we're set off on the next journey down a back alley to a steady backbeat on Reflection's "The Wall with Paintings".

These descriptions might be a little less than musically descriptive, but the jazz standards that are distorted for optimum mood-setting on Space Jazz seem meant for such ambiguities. From beginning to end, you can hear so many bits and pieces of jazz history -- the loopy piano and hyper-shuffled percussion of Pnu Riff's "Comfy Club" could be an homage to the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Take Five", while the two offerings from Love TKO could have been outtakes from Bitches Brew and the sublime guitar work on The Forward's "Modern Crimes" seems an ode to electric guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin -- that the reference points quickly lose their genre and strictly become cinematic settings.

Of course, that's only when you're listening hard enough to write a review of the compilation. Even though it makes for great listening when you're paying attention, Space Jazz works better when it's not the center of attention. That way, the images will melt into something less pervasive than a back alley or an urban penthouse or even a spacewalk. If you're merely listening to Space Jazz without really paying attention, it means that you've already gotten away from reality for a bit, and that's always better than waiting for the music to do that for you.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

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.