Impulsive! – various artistsImpulsive! Unmixed – various artists
As the jazz universe slowly gets hip to modern technology, once experimental and now stodgy record labels are beginning to take some chances by having DJs and electronica outfits remix and rework some classic material. In a perfect world, these revisions should introduce young cats to the work of masters, while old codgers might begin to embrace the turntable, laptop, and mixing board as valid instruments.
Of course, such reactions are contingent on the remixes being borne of serious thought and respect, not haphazardly smashed together, destroying the intent of the original work. Unfortunately, Impulsive!, a collection of remixes from the Impulse! catalog (the originals conveniently featured on a second album, Impulsive! Unmixed), doesn’t really have a unified theory, as it seems the DJs and producers weren’t given much direction. Thus, the album flies in many directions at once.
The weakest efforts are those in which the DJ seemingly ignores the original piece, attempting to cram a square peg in a round hole. SA-RA’s “GO” remix of George Russell’s spoken word swinger, “A Helluva Town,” makes absolutely no sense when saddled with a techno beat. By the same token, Prefuse 73 dices up Gabor Szabo’s “Mizrab” with such dexterity that it’s impossible to find the original tune. It’s a damn shame, too, because Szabo’s soothing Middle Eastern guitar lament is nothing short of beautiful.
On the positive side, some DJs weave their craft in so seamlessly that it’s difficult to tell where the old song ends and the new work begins. Gerardo Frisina takes some pulsating Brazilian rhythms and tosses them in with a finely honed hypnotic beat to add a new danceable dimension to Dizzy Gillespie’s “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac.” Along the same lines, DJ Delores’ take on Chico O’ Farrill and Clark Terry’s “Spanish Rice” retains the fun flavor of the Afro-Cuban original. O’Farrill’s playful nature and Terry’s soulful trumpet remains while DJ Delores skillfully inserts some bumping dance rhythms and a few head-bobbing breakdowns.
Some of the best work on the album is certainly delivered by Chief Xcel (of Blackalicious) on Archie Shepp’s “Attica Blues.” This raging 1972 funk number filled with anger and social protest is only enhanced by Chief Xcel’s swirling production that occasionally borders on the psychedelic. Moreover, if not for a couple of audible swishes of the turntable, it would be damn near impossible to hear that anyone had tweaked Shepp’s mastertapes. Chief Xcel’s production and mixing is so good that it actually sounds as if it came straight from 72.
The Impulsive! album closes with Ravi Coltrane playing under Julie Patton’s reading of a John Coltrane poem. It’s the only work on Impulsive! that doesn’t stem from a previous recording. While it’s a nice recording, it’s not from the same ilk as the other tracks on the disc. It’s probably a fitting way to close an album that features some impressive performances that have little in common with one another in terms of approach. In that case, the Impulsive! title of this album is most appropriate, seeing as how it was probably thrown together in a short amount of time with very little thought or care.