Formed in the mid-nineties, amidst the burgeoning after-hours club scene of a post-Berlin Wall Berlin, Jazzanova is a collective of DJs and producers that have spent the last two decades shaping the cultural heritage of their city as a place capable of producing more than just austere techno. United by a mutual love of jazz and funk records, the group were instrumental in characterising the club-focused ‘nu-jazz’ sound of the late 1990s, collaborating with Munich-based label Compost Records to find fans in the likes of Gilles Peterson, who was instrumental in bringing their sound to the UK.
Since their 1995 debut, Jazzanova have built a reputation not only for their DJ sets, production work, and more recently their live shows, but largely for their prolific remixing. Having reworked tracks from fellow nu-jazz pioneers 4Hero and Incognito, as well as House legends Masters of Work, the group’s appetite for a remix is seemingly insatiable, encompassing work from Brazilian jazz trio Azymuth to garage stalwart MJ Cole and even New Zealand dub band Fat Freddy’s Drop. In order to anthologise the best of their remixing work, the group have been steadily releasing compilation records since 2000, covering their finest productions from 1997 to 2006, and now with their latest ‘Jazzanova – The Remixes 2006-2016’, the group bring the series up to date.
This most recent compilation release again displays Jazzanova’s preference for remixing a diverse range of artists including South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, London’s Heritage Orchestra, and Latin Soul singer Joe Bataan, to name just a few. The opener, a remix of ‘Naze’ by Spinning Motion is a departure from the typical Jazzanova sound of intricate percussion and jazz-inflected samples though, instead placing emphasis on synth work to transform the track into an electropop odyssey. Similarly, ‘All Over the World’, originally by British producer Phurry Freaks, employs a synth-pop motif in the remix, while Joe Bataan’s ‘Ordinary Guy’ is extended to double its original length and placed on a straight funk beat rather than its previous bossa nova, a transition which erodes the track’s original simplicity and charm.
Notwithstanding these slightly unusual selections, the compilation excels when it showcases Jazzanova’s knack for a subtle rework, transforming the atmosphere of the original onto a dancefloor setting, without losing its essence and identity. ‘Listen to the Drums’, for instance, is remixed into a slow-burning balearic house number, deftly layering synths and percussion to build and fade throughout. ‘Dimentica Domani’, originally by Italian singer Malika Ayane, also showcases Jazzanova’s work as pioneers for other producers such as Bonobo, enhancing melody through skilled rearrangement, whilst adding percussion to shift the original from an emotive pop ballad to House. Other highlights include the up-tempo remix of Atjazz’s ‘Parallel’ and ‘Believer’ by Jazzanova’s touring vocalist Paul Randolph, which nods to the bass-heavy influences of UK Funky and Garage while keeping the swing which characterised the nu-jazz sound.
Creating a great remix is a delicate process, one that requires a fidelity to the original, yet also a certain forcefulness in order to create a new production, rather than merely a cover. Over the last two decades Jazzanova have displayed exactly this balance of reverence and confidence, creating their own sound in using the groundwork of others to build upon. Although this latest remix compilation falters in its sometime lack of fidelity to Jazzanova’s sound, it still presents the group’s capacity to produce remixes that sound as fresh as they did two decades ago.
Words: Ammar Kalia
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