Meitz - Vertikal CD

Infracom IC 111-2, released October 2003 (also available as 2LP)

Volker Meitz has been doing his own thing in a jazz stylee for some time, mainly for Berlin's Sonarkollektiv label, with two 12" singles "Africa" and "Get On Up" now being pretty difficult to get hold of. It would be only a matter of time before an album was to be released, and after hard work as well as assembling a variety of vocalists, the album "Vertikal" is here for your enjoyment.

I must say it's pretty hard to categorise this, and that's a good thing in my eyes. There's all sorts of styles loosely defined under the Jazz genre, everything with influences of soul, funk, afro, Latin beats and even a sprinkling of some broken beats and some downbeats. Roughly speaking though, if you're a fan of anything nu-Jazz, there should be something here for you, and even if you're not, you might be pleasantly surprised by what's on offer here.

First up, it's "Can You Live", which just smacks of late night vibe Jazz in all its forms and would be perfect in a late night coffee bar. The female vocalist Twana Rhoodes reminds me of Anne Quigley of Manchester-based Latin Jazz outfit Kalima (anyone remember them?) and there's many nice hooks and good jazz lines here, as well as a toe-tapping sample in the background that for some reason just works really well and gives it that little bit of edge. Immediately the album changes track where the electronica is gently mixed with steel drum beats and produces "Zwakalani", the first of a few tracks where South African Vido Jelashe provides the vocals. A word of warning: some of which are African language, and not in English (although English vocals appear later on), and yet it actually works well and really takes you away to a warmer climate (not a bad idea considering the temperature as I'm writing this to be honest).

"Gloom" is just a wonderful little downbeat piece, flavoured very gently with some nice saxophones that really gives it a melodic vibe of real late nights. However, it starts off vocally with the classic opening blues line "Woke up this morning.." which although seems a strange choice initially works okay later on as the swaying voice of Esther Cowens gets to work and the room starts to fill with the gentle mix of instruments, probably best listened to with the lights off. There's then the dramatic "White Powder Everywhere" which has vocals and lyrics by the spoken word artist Kent Evans. It seems quite like a film soundtrack this one, only emphasised by its dramatic introduction of subtle suspense and ambience mixed together before the drums kick in and give it a different take with some squelchy analogue backing Kent along. I wasn't sure to make of it, and I think you'd either love it or hate it.

"Awe Mzala" features Vido Jelashe again, and it's really nice how the laid back downtrodden style of its opening gives way to some funk style guitar as the vocals kick in. It's very much background music for a perfect background of being alone, actually. Don't know why I felt that though. But then there's one of the best two tracks here: "Aprilwetter". It's the longest track here, but also one that's allowed to fully develop its ideas. From its Kraftwerk-style opening, brooding into a much more cinematic film score with many strings apparent, it quickly develops into a film score for suspense thrillers, with the string instrumentation heightening that feeling of fear before it goes more minimalist with a smattering of keyboards and 70s style written all over it. It wouldn't look out of place in any of the Dirty Harry movies for example, and coming from me that's a big compliment as I really liked the way Lalo Schifrin did those scores. As we head towards the end of this track again the suspense is heightened further by some slightly off-key instrumentation, deliberately designed to invoke fear, and it works very well indeed. Much kudos for this, for sure.

"Passo Em Frente" is much more in the Latin European or Brazilianstyle, with the vocals sung in Portugese from Daniel Mattar. It really does build in three distinct stages and gives you that overwhelming sense of a progressive track. The middle section has some well worked drums together with the vocals gently breathing in and giving it that necessary space and freedom to flow as it builds up speed and crescendo towards the end, with the whistles in the background making you think of all those carnivals in Rio. It's really well done, but nothing can prepare you for the original classic version of "Get On Up", earlier released as a 12" single. Quite simply it's how a lot of dance music should aspire to, such is its greatness. It moves along at the right speed and slowly works its way into your body at the start as it gets going, and Esther Cowen's vocals add that dimension of feeling that really makes you think of George Clinton, Herbie Hancock and late 80s House music in one. Yes, it's really that good. The fact I've played this track quite a few times on repeat play should tell you something. The middle section just reminds me of Volker's past musicianship when he composed tunes on the Commodore 64, but it also serves as an excellent section to give you that slight break before getting on up for the change in pitch for the end part. And then there's the "Epilogue-Get on Down" which is basically the final part of this track as it changes beat from something fast to a little slower with some nice percussion and beat work, but retaining the complete funkiness of the original. Very nice.

Then there's a surprise in store: the soaring ballad "My Love", where Volker himself sings the vocals, and does a pretty good job on the whole too, with some gentle jazz beats and beautiful melodies just forming enough to not be too intrusive, with some nice use of harmonies in the verses to fill the space with a nice mellowness that just seems to spawn itself throughout the track. After the fast pace of Get on Up, it's the nice wind-down afterwards that works. And works well. And just so you don't feel too left out, there's "(Mayibuye I) Africa (edit)" a nice version of his first 12" single "Africa" which just mixes many styles of beats and a general African vibe, added to again by the vocals of Vido Jelashe, and there's plenty of room for the whole thing to just roll along at just a nice pace required, not to mention the occasional change in pace from 5/4, 6/4 and then 4/4 beats, just to keep you on your toes to see if you can keep up. It's pretty nice, as is the edit of "(Un Rien De) Mandelbrot" which originally appeared on the Get On Up 12" single, which has a nice gentle web of electronica and percussion that weaves its way really nicely, and again is great background music for late at night with the slight sounds of the jungle (check out the birds that have been sampled here) thrown in for good measure, and does a job well to close down the album, although it wasn't my cup of tea.

I must admit when I first got this CD I wasn't sure what to expect, but I needn't have worried. The fact that there's many subtle yet differing variations of a jazz style, all fused together by an excellent use of electronics (yes, the drums are electronic, hard to believe actually) and music you can either listen to late at night to relax or even get on up and dance to, depending on your mood at the time. Its' strength is the fact that there is a variety of styles and those draw you in to make you want to listen to the album again. It's very nice, and well worth a hunt for. If you can't find it, order it from the record label themselves here, and tell them I sent you :)

Warren's rating: 87%