Radio Citizen: The Night & The City
Sonar Kollektiv

Radio Citizen is primarily the brainchild of Munich-based Niko Schabel, but he's hardly alone on The Night & The City. Pianist Antonis Anissegos, drummer Matthias Gmelin, and The Lost Poets' Abiodun Oyewole all make appearances on the thirteen-song collection, but of the guests it's Afro-Danish jazz singer Natalie Greffel who leaves the strongest impression, given how prominently her voice is featured and the way she tears into the material with such bite. But don't for a moment downplay Schabel's role: he's a multi-instrumentalist who plays woodwinds, keyboards, percussion, and MPC sampler, and it's his vision that's presented on the fifty-four-minute outing, one rooted in both live playing and crate-digging and intent on fusing Latin, funk, dub, soul, Afrobeat, hip-hop, and dusty jazz into a wide-ranging brew.

The Night & The City, which follows two album releases on the San Francisco imprint Ubiquity Recordings, Berlin Serengeti and Hope And Despair, bolts from the gate with the brooding “Shores,” a melodically strong and funky slow-burner rendered even more memorable by Greffel's soulful vocalizing (“Lost my mind for one second / Now that that shore is gone...”) and a wordless falsetto that stamps itself on your memory after a single pass. With Schabel on MPC, piano, and percussion, the song's a punchy opening salvo that sets the bar high for the others to match. The two dig into the boombastic “Radio Days” like souls possessed, with her smooth vocal backed by a hard-grooving drum track and a strings-heavy swing suggestive of some melding of trip-hop and New Jack Swing. Elsewhere Greffel muses on freedom during “Rise,” memorable for its its horns- and woodwinds-kissed riffing on reggae, and Oyewole adds expressive outpourings to the percussion-heavy Afrobeat of “Near and Far.”

A number of instrumentals break up the vocal flow, among them the atmospheric “Clouds,” which, smeared in vinyl crackle, finds Anissegos's piano assuming the lead, and “Peace,” a sleepy slice of jazzy head-nod fit to ease one's brood off to slumberland. Like some modern-day offshoot of The Cinematic Orchestra, “Trip” finds Schabel and company visiting a noir-jazz part of the metropolis, with flute and thrumming drums leading the charge. As solid as such pieces are in their own right, they're less memorable than the vocal-based songs, largely due to Greffel's charismatic presence. Taken together, however, the vocal and non-vocal cuts amount to a satisfying blend and help make the multi-scenic The Night & The City worthy of recommendation.

October 2015