Black Friday Music Shopping Guide - Stay home.

For the first time ever, Phil Are Go! is doing a music review sort of thing. Today is Annual Mercantile Lapse in Judgment Day, when millions of people self-destructively stampede into stores in the small hours and indulge in some bare-knuckle consumerism. Eff that. Buy a couple of gifts online and save the unnecessary expense of having your pelvis held together with steel pins.

If you're a person who reads P.A.G!, you, or someone on your Pointy Tree Day list may be a person who likes music that either sounds old or is actually old. Here are some albums (An album is a collection of songs released as a whole, regardless of what format they are delivered on, so shut up.) that contain no auto-tune. In my brain, good music is any that makes pictures appear in my head. And, a picture of the vocalist singing does not count! It needs to be evocative. These albums do that to my brain. They also demonstrate that jazz is evolving without betraying it's past.

The Five Corners Quintet, Chasin' the Jazz Gone By. The Five Corners Quintet is a jazz band from Helsinki, Finland who are decades younger than the sound of their music. The title of the album pretty much also serves as the band's mission statement.
The album sounds like sixties heist movies. They sound bigger than they are, but they're just a five-piece combo, with just two horns on most tracks. It's mostly instrumental car-chase music with occasional guest vocals by American jazz singer Mark Murphy. The album cover art was a perfect choice. Modern, retro, and very classy.

The astute listener with decent headphones will notice something odd about the sound of the album. It seems that, in their enthusiasm to capture the retro sound, they added a small amount of "analog distortion" to the recordings. I don't know for sure, but I suspect this was done digitally in the studio, rather than recording the whole album on vintage tube equipment. I wish they'd have left that off, but it's livable. You can most easily hear the effect as a kind of "fuzz" over the top of the higher horn notes and some of the cymbals. It was a curiosity the first couple of times I listened to it, but now it doesn't bother me and all I hear is the sound of a spy running through a hotel lobby.

Here's a YouTube clip of my favorite track off the album, "Trading Eights".

 Nicola Conte, Bossa Per Due. Italian guitarist and bandleader Nicola Conte also pours a coctail over your brain with his 2001 release Bossa Per Due. Unlike the Five Corners Quintet, he uses some contemporary electronic rhythms and looping to modernize the sound of his jazz a little, but nothing overt or cheesy.
Like Chasin' the Jazz Gone By, I think this album will age well, and you won't be embarrassed to listen to it in twenty years or so. The computer trickery doesn't interfere with the retro sound at all. Blending the old with the new and making the two sound seamless is the mark of a clever and nuanced artist.

You may recognize the following song from at least one commercial. I think it was used on a Maytag ad for some stylish washing machines in red enamel shot on a black background. That's not where I first heard this song, but I was glad that word was getting out. I think I heard of Conte through Amazon's fairly useful "if you like this you may like that" functionality. When I bought the album, I was relieved that someone was still making music that turns me on.

The songs on Bossa Per Due are less action scene than travel montage. The Vespa on the cover was, again, a well chosen piece of art. The sound of the album is all departure lounges and silver Sean Connery suits. If Conte wasn't Italian, the sound of his music would seem pretentious, but coming, as it were, from the horse's mouth, I have no guilt in succumbing to the very Italian Euro-beat this album moves to. Like Chasin', the songs are mostly instrumentals, but with non-verbal female vocals distributed throughout. This is perfect. It imposes no narrative on the music, letting the sound paint the pictures. Everyone can be a synesthete, and that is no bad thing.

Koop, Waltz for Koop. I wish I could say I first heard Koop at a basement club on a trip to Sweden, but no. I just heard them on a record review on NPR back in 2002, like everyone else.
Koop is, at it's core, a pair of jazz-loving Swedish DJs called Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson. Yes, they like to wear women's clothes. They can act as goofy as they want, as long as they keep releasing albums like Waltz for Koop. The album is a short thirty minutes, but each song feels like a scene from a movie. Waltz for Koop is the most obviously looped and electronic of these three albums, but the work is done with as much sensitivity and taste as Conte. Koop record vamps and clips of a live jazz combo, then build those into loops and cut them together with synthesizers and various guest vocals. The result sounds surprisingly effortless and natural. Your average DJ oaf couldn't pull it off, and that's what excuses the computer infringement on the hallowed ground of jazz: taste and skill.

The songs on Waltz for Koop range from bouncy (Summer Sun) to moody (Modal Mile). This makes for a good live show, and Koop does perform live, by bringing their jazz band and vocalists out on the road. So, out of the machine comes soul. How bout that?


Craig F. said...

Some of the best rockabilly around comes from Finland, too.

Check out the Barnshakers. Their lead guitar player is named "Hakkapelita Mikkahakkenen" or some other unpronounceable Finnish name, but he goes by "Lester Peabody," which always cracks me up.


MrsBug said...

Allow me to salute you, good sir, on your discriminating taste in music.

:furtively adds all the albums to her Amazon Wish List:

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Thanks, Mrs. B! I also need to check out the Barnshakers, as CraigF recommended.


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