Published May 01, 2000The music of Jazzanova gives me hope. Together, the six Berlin-based producers Alexander Barck, Roskow Kretschmann, Claas Brieler, Axel Reinemer, Stefan Leisering and Jürgen V. Knoblauch have fused their shared love of jazz, folk, Brazilian, African and hip-hop sounds into a widely appreciated whole. Jazzanova create sounds that are at once futuristic yet mindful of history, challenging yet absolutely accessible. Theirs is a music of passion, of obsessive record collecting, of collective dreaming. And we dream along with them.
For six years now, lovers of innovative new jazz-steeped sounds have hunted for Jazzanova records in bins the world over. Unless you count the dozens of remixes they've created for artists like 4Hero, U.F.O. and Ian Pooley, there hasn't been much to hunt. Two early EPs generated a strong underground buzz, then last year's collection, The Remixes 1997-2000, sealed the deal, receiving heaps of praise. The Jazza guys were even more in demand, travelling around the world for DJ dates, press sessions and massive festival appearances.
Still, the questions remained. Where was the Jazzanova album? Would the guys go the same route as comrades-in-tempo Kruder & Dorfmeister, releasing only sporadic singles, loads of remixes, and separate solo projects? Could they keep egos in check and maintain their commitment to warm, quality sounds despite all the hype and attention directed their way?
The release of In Between answers these questions. The lovingly meticulous release sets a true milestone for sample-based music. With the album, Jazzanova have more than nodded to fans, while keeping true to themselves.
"The feeling that the people were waiting was always there," acknowledges Alexander Barck. "But we had to learn that the best way to work for us is to have no real deadline. We fixed a deadline maybe five months before finishing, but before that it was just a collection of ideas and when we closed the studio door, we had our time. There was no pressure. We learned that we need the possibility to just do and do and do. That's why people waited so long for their remixes for instance, but we noticed that in the end everybody was happy to have it. That showed us that time is a relative thing."
Time has clearly been on Jazzanova's side, allowing them to learn, develop their tastes and hone their skills. "I think we learned how to make an LP while we made the LP," adds Roskow Kretschmann. "Maybe other people who play or study music know in advance what they want on an album or what they need commercially, but for us the question was how we could give a portrayal of ourselves and what we enjoy. There was no concept, no plans. It was just about doing it."
"Doing it, and doing it and doing it well" takes on a whole new meaning here. In Between reflects years of listening to and adoring music. The love and craftsmanship is obvious, whether with instrumental sample-based pieces or during the many collaborations with guests musicians and vocalists. Likeminded souls gathered along the way include legendary vibes player David Friedman and jazz vocalist Doug Hammond, Philly wonder-souls Vikter Duplaix and Ursula Rucker, and classically trained pianist Hajime Yoshizawa of Kyoto Jazz Massive. Ultimately however, the true stars here are Jazzanova's programming and songwriting skills. The "doing it" is in the details.
"Some might call it typical German,' this kind of perfectionism or whatever it is," offers Claas Brieler. "But mostly it's because we are guided by our own taste, by what we found great in other people's music and then we want to reach at least the same level. The problem is that we listen to so many records and have so many songs that we really like. Once you have that kind of ideal in your head, once you know how a real nice song has to sound, then what you want to reach with your own songs is very difficult. It takes a lot of effort because we know what is good."
The three men share a laugh, with Barck adding, "We like moments in music; in the best case, you have a song out of moments. The album's first song (L.O.V.E. You and I'), where we have thousands of moments, is special that way. It's over the top, but we wanted to show the possibility of not caring for any limitation. Then, at the end, we thought to switch it to a live session. As crazy as the ideas were, everybody was like Yes!' It was just this feeling that everything is possible. It's a crazy tune, and it shows our love for those little Ahhh!' moments."
As does "Mwele Mwele," a personal favourite. Featuring the vocals of Valerie Etienne and Rob Gallagher, this is a song shaped purely by instinct as it moved from the original concept of an instrumental to an incredibly powerful, ever-morphing slice of soulful broken beat. It is Jazzanova's willingness to keep themselves open to where a tune may take them, to accept that sometimes to end a song means returning to its beginning, that sets them steps ahead of most of their peers. There's no doubt that six sets of ears can be better than one, but one can't help but wonder if the collective can sometimes be split by differing opinions on the progress of pieces.
"Actually," says Claas, "There's kind of an unspoken, unlearned thing amongst us. Put the six of us in a room with a thousand other people and music going on, and when a certain moment appears in whatever song, all six of us will react. That's something that connects us very strongly so there is never a fight about whether a song is ready or not. Everybody knows that when one out of six says Well maybe this song isn't really finished yet,' the others will not say Yes, it is.' Instead, it's like Hmm, why is he thinking it's not finished. Perhaps it's not. Let's look at it again.'"
For most musicians, it's a luxury to have the time and means to continuously rework pieces. The Jazzanova men have been smart, developing an infrastructure that allows them to side-step financial pressures while creating slowly and immaculately.
"We have to live as well and nobody amongst us is from a rich background," responds Barck. "With our structure, the DJs earn money, put it into one pot, and share it with the other producers. That allows us to take our time. I definitely would say that we are in a good situation, especially in Berlin, which is a friendly environment for our music."
In return, the members of Jazzanova create an equally friendly environment for fellow producers based in Berlin and beyond. They are committed to the ideals of collective creation, being partners in Jazzanova-Compost Records and a driving force behind Sonar Kollektiv. Through the latter distribution network in particular, they open doors for musicians and producers who come to them with strong ideas and sounds, offering access to their studio, contacts, and more.
"If you have something special that you want to keep, you want to have a structure around it to make it last for a while," explains Alex. "Then you come to the point where the structure is strong enough that you can give other people the chance to do the same thing. You need that; it's really hard to be here, with nobody around you. You need a basement and that's what we wanted to offer to people because we noticed that there are so many talented people around and we had to give them a chance because the actual first step is always very difficult."
Though Jazzanova didn't necessarily know that their efforts in community building would come back to support them, this is exactly what has happened, with Sonar Kollektiv-related musicians such as vocalist Clara Hill and Micatone bass-player Paul Kleber guesting on the album. The instinctive development and nurturing of an inclusive community has also resulted in a number of forthcoming debut artist releases, something that has the three men buzzing with excitement as they gush in English and German about the achievements of their comrades. This kind of enthusiasm is infectious it's little wonder that so many people approach the men with demos and ideas.
"It's an open house, sometimes comparable to a social station," laughs Claas of their studio-cum-office; "But that's a good thing, especially this year as we have the payback system. There are some albums in the pipeline that are really, really good George Levin, Slope, Meitz really good stuff. It's maybe the first year that all the so-called synergy effects are really working. We guided them through the last three or four years and now somehow, I have the feeling that it's coming back. When you listen to their CDs, you see that something is growing, and that's the best thing you can feel."