Gilles Peterson/Jazzanova: The Kings of Jazz

Having covered disco, funk, hip-hop, and house in previous volumes, this fifth in the Kings of… series compiles DJ Gilles Peterson's 'historical' selections with Jazzanova's 'contemporary' Jazz samplings. The first disc's material amounts to a crash course in recent jazz history with Peterson giving masters like Mingus, Dolphy, Evans, and Coltrane their due.

Roy Haynes' Latin-stoked “Quiet Fire” and The Jazz Crusaders' ferocious “Young Rabbits” explode out of the gate while Rashaan Roland Kirk brews horn-braying gospel gumbo in “Spirits Up Above.” On the Eastern firestorm “Anthenagin” (its bass line reminiscent of “A Love Supreme”), Art Blakey stokes his jazz messengers as forcefully as he did Monk and others. Some of Peterson's choices surprise: a vocal ballad (a duet yet) is hardly representative of Mingus while one would prefer Coltrane's version of “My Favorite Things” instead of crooner Mark Murphy's (though Coltrane's bluesy vamp “Equinox” is a solid choice). Furthermore, while a single disc understandably delimits the range of possible selections, one wonders why Murphy's taking up valuable space when Parker and Rollins, to name but two greats, don't appear. Regardless, no better closer could possibly be imagined than Bill Evans' exquisite “Peace Piece.”

Though Peterson's classic collection poses a formidable challenge for the Berlin-based 'Kollektiev' and ace remixers (4 Hero, King Britt) Jazzanova to equal with its disc, 'The Present' actually proves to be a credible if myopic companion that flirts a little more with smooth jazz and electronic fusion than one might prefer; certainly there's little of an avant-garde or boldly experimental nature represented (Rima's “Modern Times” sounds like watered-down Weather Report circa 1980, hardly an overly provocative 'present' sound). A shame the set opens with Nikki O's off-key warble in “Butterflies” but 4 Hero's “Spirits in Transit” and Innerzone Orchestra's “At Les” help erase that sour intro from memory; considerably better on the vocal front is Jamie Lidell's soulful croon in The Matthew Herbert's Big Band “Everything's Changed.” No one should be too surprised, however, to discover that the second half's offerings lack the power of those on the first. Oh sure, a sax player wails some serious free fire during Bembe Segue's live “Mother of the Future” but classic pieces by Coltrane and Evans can't help but overshadow disc two's offerings.

April 2006