Various Jazzland Tracks 1996-2000

With every new jazz label comes a promise to renew, reinvent, revitalise and completely revolutionise the form. What was wrong with jazz to start with? Jazzland Records head honcho Bugge Wesseltoft tackles the job of "making new” by laying on the electronics — something Ninja Tune and Thirsty Ear’s Blue Series have also been working on these past few years. Jazzland Tracks 1996-2000 features the luminaries of the Scandinavian electro-jazz scene. The collection is as confounding as it is entertaining. The music mostly resembles the acid jazz movement that stormed through in the early ’90s. In places, the 4/4 beat and swooning female vocals seem more at home in deep house or trance music than anything considered jazz. The best of the tracks are two more languorous takes: Wibutee’s "Colder than Heaven” is a David Lynch-worthy bit of electronic lounge, and Sidel Endresen’s "Travelling Still” could be a northern country’s version of a torch song — burdened and mournful from its compressed guitars to its muted trumpets. Wesseltoft’s offerings are also above par, and on his own recording, New Conceptions of Jazz Live, he’s free to expand both in theme and duration. Recorded with a slightly shifting line-up from 2000 to 2002, the pieces are mainly jams which build around a root of electronic rhythm that functions as a kind of live "click track.” Layered over this are live drums and bass as well as Bugge’s fender Rhodes piano. Additional electronics provide atmosphere and depth to the sound. On the 20-minute epic near the middle of the album the group is joined by guitarist John Scofield whose presence seems to ignite the improvisational spark of the ensemble. Overall the music is hard to dislike; it’s rhythmically complex and smoothly executed. On the other hand it seems a little too eager to please, stripped of the jaggedness and imperfections that make modern jazz a force of change. (Jazzlands)