J u l y   2 0 0 2


Remixing the masters ...
It takes a lotta Verve
by Mark Anderson

eed a postmodern recipe for some sure-fire summer fun? Just take several sultry singers and their celebrated standards, then match them up with today's swingingest dance-floor masters of mix.

Recast masters: postmodern remixes bring name-brand singers into a new century.

Make sure and use name-brand singers – Carmen McRae, Shirley Horn, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Astrud Gilberto, Nina Simone and Ella will do. Gather the fabled master tapes, use types like Tricky, Richard Dorfmeister and MJ Cole for mixing, throw it all in a blender and get these eternally august ladies to sound like they've just teamed up on some hot and spirited sessions.

That's pretty much the premise for Verve Remixed, a recent release from the archives of the revered recording label. Some will say sacrilege, but really, it's about time.

"It took three years to assemble the right combinations of remixers and appropriate Verve catalog material," said Verve exec Jason Olaine, "but the album is definitely worth the wait."

While it's probably important to remember that these renditions aren't intended to replace anything, in fact, they serve as vivid reminder of the greatness of those 1940s, '50s and '60s originals.

Besides, what makes for better late-night partying than some exotic off-kilter music? What tops a long, warm-weather drive with the right songs turned way up loud? Can anything beat a perfectly steamy soundscape in the midst of a passionate moment?

And do these songs ever sound like summer.

Nina Simone: the remix of "See-Line Woman" is a highlight.

The repeated snip of Carmen McRae's humming – a delicious electronic flitter of an intro – turns into smooth British mixer MJ Cole's bass-heavy take on "How Long Has This Been Going On." Cole cuts and pastes a seamless vocal out of McRae's shimmering performance, quilting an up-tempo five-minute dance-floor siren of a song.

Nina Simone gets two treatments, but it's the 10-minute rendition of "See-Line Woman," all decked out in a flute-flecked shuffle beat, that further highlights the album. The percussive mix, by Masters at Work, breaks down to bare piano and bass at the four-minute mark, brings back the beat at 4:30, then rides the final five minutes into an impossibly fine sunset.

On Holiday: thoroughly modern Billie.

A pair of Austrians, Dzihan & Kamien, remix "Don't Explain" into another highlight, making obvious that Billie Holiday would be a major star if starting out like this today.

Tricky brings trademark strangeness to Holiday's "Strange Fruit" – as if a song about lynching needs help to sound exceedingly intense. Adding industrial-strength rippling sounds of unchecked high voltage is both apt and intendedly disturbing.

Sweet, hypnotic guitar figures flesh out a pulsating beat in the Thievery Corporation remix of Astrud Gilberto's "Who Needs Forever."

Ella offers "Wait Til You See Him," Dinah does "Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby," Shirley sings "Return to Paradise" and, in keeping with the season, Sarah slides into "Summertime." Each mix gets its own designated driver.

Male voices also have their say, as Tony Cole and Willie Bobo, courtesy of those seemingly bottomless Verve archives, provide a pair of sparkling vocal concoctions.

Overall, this fresh idea has endless possibilities and implications – both as homage to a cadre of wonderful songs and artists from a day gone by, and as something totally new.

Jazz became new to me in the mid-1970s, when Uncle Kenneth died and I got first crack at his small but sophisticated collection of LPs. Many remain cornerstones of my listening habits to this day, but I had to ask dad about a specific pair of unplayable black vinyl slabs, each lacquered on one side with a glaze of gritty, brownish dust – the apparent byproduct of an open window, a city street and some serious neglect.

"Sometimes ..." explained dad, careful to choose words about his next-eldest brother – the engineer, inventor and musician who'd logged time in a German prison camp, a pilot shot down in World War II.

"... Sometimes," dad began again, "your uncle would do a lot of living before he'd find his way back to a turntable."

Good answer, dad. Uncle Kenneth never, ever mentioned the war around us kids. And while we were crazy about him, he always seemed a bit distant. Some years he'd cancel plans at the last minute, not making the three-hour drive to join us for Christmas. Now and then he'd call at three or four in the morning and talk to dad. Dad said Kenneth was riddled with unspeakable dreams.

Raw Verve: Unmixed, the companion release, features the original mixes.

Some things can never be replaced.

Uncle Kenneth, a bundle of charisma, died a bachelor in his 50s. But those LPs were his immortal soundtrack and they made their way to the next generation, full force. They shared time on a teen-ager's turntable hungry for Beatles and Allmans, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Likewise, Verve seems to have found a venerable way to help its own legacy along. At the end of the day, though, why even think about it all so hard?

Just turn it up. We only get so many summers.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and visit prior editions of tripewriter.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.