Remixing the masters ...
takes a lotta Verve
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.
masters: postmodern remixes bring name-brand singers into a
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
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.
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
Ella offers "Wait Til You See Him," Dinah does "Is
You Is Or Is You Aint 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.
Unmixed, the companion release, features the original
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.