Rebop: The Savoy Jazz Remixes

From the very start, Savoy was about innovation and risk-taking.   The pioneering jazz label founded in 1942 and based in Newark, New Jersey until 1974 was a haven for such genre-defining (and re defining) artists as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, Billy Eckstine, Tommy Flanagan, Kai Winding, Marian McPartland, Art Pepper, Herbie Mann, Yusef Lateef, Lester Young and Stan Getz - just for starters.   Tally up the incalculable artistry of that brilliantly sprawling collective of artists and their output, and you'll find this common denominator: Music that shivered and serrated in its dazzling capture of its assorted eras while foreshadowing the future.

Fast forward, and the future is now.  Rebop: The Savoy Jazz Remixes is a tribute to the vision, art and craft of some of jazz music's greatest geniuses of the past by some of the most innovative, forward-thinking producers/remixers/beatsmiths of today: DJ Eclipse, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Quantic, Basement Boys, Large Professor and Rob Swift, St. Etienne, DJ Smash, King Britt, DJ Logic, DJ Spooky, Diamond D, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Boots. Assembled by producers Joshua Sherman (Sr. Director A&R / Marketing at Savoy) and Stu Fine, this team of musical surgeons, using state-of-the-art technology and their own finely honed aesthetics, lifted, tucked, suctioned, expanded and sometimes just lightly touched up both familiar standards and longtime cult favorites.   And it's all in keeping with the label's implicit mandate from its earliest days: keep pushing the envelope.

"The Savoy legacy is one of innovation and exploration," says Sherman, "and we believe that the remix phenomenon - allowing visionary producers and DJs to reconceptualize and recontextualize the creations of an earlier generation of pioneers - is one exciting way to stay true to Savoy's heritage. I told the producers that they could take their respective track wherever they wanted to go with it.   Some artists chose to build their track on top of the original without extensive changes. Others completely deconstructed the track and only used a few elements of the original. But they all really got into the spirit of the originals and maintained the high level of musicality. The interplay of melody and rhythm between the original elements and the new elements is so exciting to hear."

Put the needle on the record (um... so to speak) and this is just some of what you'll hear:

•  Loops, seamless edits and scratches, stuttering effects and a sampled "Yeah!" floating atop the relentless drums of DJ Eclipse's re-tooled version of   "Movin' Nicely," a collage of artfully ragged sounds that coalesce into a hypnotic groove.

•  The legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff teasing keys from underneath a wall of sound, carefully building a symphonic blast from bass, percussion and drums, then letting it all fall away into a sparse hip-hop nod of beats and scratches before swelling up again on his inventive take on "Nights in Tunisia."

•  The Quantic remix of "Moose the Mooche" conjuring up a crowded, hip-cat speakeasy: smoky atmosphere, dapper dudes and sultry women, loud laughter, sexily cramped quarters as horns fill the air and the drummer keeps time. It's a reverent tweaking that tips a hat to the past .

•  Basement Boys, whose heavily jazz-inflected grooves have made them icons in the world of House music stripping "Minor Vamp" down to an insistent bass-line, slowly amping up handclaps and seeming poised to launch a classic House track before taking a hard stylistic left, highlighting a burnished horn lead that gives way to energetic piano work, recreating the feel of a real life jam session and that doubles as an old-school dance floor workout.

•  On "Minority Vibe" Large Professor and Rob Swift flow hard beats over vibes in such a seamless marriage of rap and jazz, hip-hop style and jazz that it transcends genre: It's funk, soul, jazz, blues, the essence of cool.

•  In the nimble hands of St. Etienne, "Yardbird Suite" takes on a spacey, state-of-now electronica feel in its opening few minutes, then swings into a beat-driven musical essay that simmers.

•  The Arabian Nights feel of DJ Smash's remix of "Caravan" underscoring the pull that middle-eastern flavor has long had for both the greats of jazz and the young-bloods of hip-hop. It's a complex track of staggered components that all dovetail into a moody aural landscape.

•  King Britt's take on the great standard "Lover Man" capturing the beautiful ache of the words and places them inside a percolating, late-nite supper club - one where salsa, rhumba and the bossa nova are the soundtrack. You can picture elegant couples twirling as a girl-singer not only holds her own with the band, but goes toe-to-toe with them.

•  Iconoclastic DJ Spooky creating an aural montage from of snippets of dialogue, angular beats, snatches of horn and offbeat effects in his version of "Koko." It's an explosion of surreal, psychedelic, experimental sound bombing.

•  Having steered hip-hop giants A Tribe Called Quest to Hall of Fame status with jazz heavy tracks, Ali Shaheed Muhammad brings his nimble touch to a bottom-heavy, almost brooding interpretation of "Five Spot After Dark," one that's brushed with the blues as much as it is hip-hop. It's a paradoxical track, full yet spacious, intensely layered but not cluttered.

•  The Boots Remix of "Shaw Nuff" pulls staccato drums and synth effects that nod to electro hip-hop and the New Wave funk of early Prince.  It's a duel of retro eras that's completely modern.

The thing that calms all doubts about such an ambitious undertaking is the final result: In the end, these remixes (Savoy is also releasing a CD collection of the original versions) are reverent in their irreverence, true to the original spirit in which the music was made, bringing it into the present with aplomb. A bonus effect is that it provides a necessary bridge between past and present.

"I think the whole point of this project is opening up this music to a new audience who wasn't aware of it in the first place," says DJ Eclipse. "That's the same way that we all found out about Gary Bartz, Bob James, Ahmad Jamal and so on - through people sampling them."

Adds Sherman, "We believe that there is a very large audience out there seeking this kind of dialogue between past and present, between jazz and hip hop and club cultures, and I hope that Rebop will resonate with them."

Before the remixing could even begin, however, the guys behind the boards had to put aside awareness that their were tampering with sacred texts. For some, it wasn't that hard to do.

"I wasn't intimidated by the project at all," smiles Ali Shaheed.  "I embraced the opportunity as if I were practicing at home in my mirror for the past 16 years waiting for the day to show my stuff.   When Savoy called me I saw this as a chance to be part of the jazz/hip-hop remix generation. Jazz has influenced my creative process.   It felt right to be involved.   Funny thing is, after I chose 'Five Sport After Dark,' I asked for the multi-track so that I could isolate parts to sample. Joshua said, 'Ali this was recorded in the 1950's before there was such a thing called multi-track.' I fell out in laughter. He offered to send me an AIFF file instead. I told him the MP3 I had was good enough."

On the flip-side of the question, though, King Britt says, "Anytime you remix a legendary song, there is a little bit of intimidation.  I wasn't going to do it, but I love a challenge. It's been an honor to remix Dizzy Gillespie's 'Lover Man.' First, it is one of my mother's favorite songs [as] sung by Sarah Vaughn. Second, I love Dizzy!"

Adds DJ Smash," I had no idea I could make the song 'better.' That would be impossible.  I just hope to open up different ears and minds to the song."

To reassure both the artists and any fans of the music who might still have trepidation about sampling the new fare, Sherman offers this insight, " In the 40s, when the first generation of bebop stars redefined what jazz could be, there were a lot of critics who rejected it. The musicians called them 'moldy figs.' Jazz is all about exploring, about rendering the world in improvised abstraction. Jazz is supposed to move with the times."