Review Summary: Opposing Forces
The marriage of old and new is an interesting concept, and one that seems to have become more prominent in this digital age. It’s not the uniqueness of the concept that makes it interesting, people have been doing it for ages, at least as long as someone thought that it was a good idea to rap over a few bars James Brown rhythm section, but the fusion of seeming incompatibility of antithetical concepts makes for fascinating music. Perhaps the best example of that is The Avalanche’s Since I Left You, which merges thousands of samples from every conceivable location into one cohesive package. What we have on Koop Island is not an incompatibly of style so much as age and taste. Putting electronica and jazz together has been done before, but it can often lead to terrible music by making the mistake of smoothing out all of the edges that makes jazz interesting. That’s how we get the likes of Kenny G. Such a hybrid is precarious, but Koop has managed to pull it off.
Their secret is that rather than blending down both elements to their lowest common denominator, Koop cheery picks the strengths. They've managed to retain a very organic sound, in part through frequent use of live instrumentation, but while it may sound like a 1940's swing record, it doesn't feel like one. The goal is not to transport you back to some smoky jazz club; there would be no mistaking this for something like missing a Sarah Vaughan album. Rather, Koop has created a dreamy, timeless album. This works well in allowing the contrasting ideas to flow naturally, so that the differences in the smooth scat “The Moonbounce” and the techno beat and vibraphone built “Drum Rhythm A” seem compatible rather than disjunctive.
After a listen or two, the duo’s involvement in the 90's Swedish Jazz scene really shows. The musical pallet is diverse but never crowded, allowing expansive solos, but unlike the Hard Bop of the 50's and 60's, we don’t see the lengthy solo sections that become the main focus of the song. Rather, the majority of these arrangements are combo-sized, but pass the instruments around. A Dixieland clarinet solo on “Forces… Darling.” Sax on “Let’s Elope.” A beautiful trombone solo on “Come to Me.” String here, a subdued horn unison there. Throw the whole thing together, and you’re left with an incredible package, musically.
The weakness of the album is somewhat minimal compared to the strengths and may very well have been an intentional decision. That is to say, the lyrics are occasionally sub-par. Rarely delving into anything meaningful, they serve as a reminder that this is very much a jazz-pop album. They very much have the tone of many of those 30's and 40's vocal jazz charts, hence the speculation of intentionality, but often pale in comparison to those standards. The most unique piece of vocal work on the album, the spoken word “Beyond the Sun” is both the best and worst song on the album. The best in its ambition and lyrical quality, but the worst as it is the one song that feels out of place. It’s not a hard song to skip and could have been left out without anyone noticing, but all the same shows the depth of this act’s creative power.
If you want to gain a true sense of the album without much work, listen to the two version of “Come to Me.” Note the contrast, the subtle electronic ambiance of the first and the busier, big band pallet of the second. Often the electronic influences are not obvious, but hearing the contrast reveals the subtlety underneath the record, shows what really makes the record ageless, and proves why the whole thing is so damn good. It’s not a perfect album, but it’s beautiful and fun to listen to, and that, in this case, is sufficient.