Perhaps the greatest gift one generation can offer another is a record of what it has learned, what it has accomplished and what really mattered at the end of the day. Over the years humanity has lost more music than it has retained, the idea being that the cream, having risen to the top, remains. But how do you translate a sound that, despite its gravitas, may have fallen below the radar of a new generation of music enthusiasts?
In 2002 Verve records, the venerable jazz label, hit upon an idea to introduce the label’s great artists to a younger audience. They invited current cutting-edge producers and DJs to remix classic tracks from Verve’s all-star roster. Suddenly Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington were divas of the dance floor; pulsating grooves propelled those incredible voices across the undulating bodies of a generation born long after these ladies dominated the jazz and pop charts. The experiment has been so successful that other labels have taken up the idea and Verve is now on its fourth volume of remixes.
Verve/Remixed4 offers return visits from past remix album artists. Dinah Washington, Astrud Gilberto, Sarah Vaughn, Willie Bobo, Roy Ayers, Ella Fitzgerald, and Anita O’Day are once again top choices of the latest crop of producers. The great Nina Simone proves to be a favorite of the mixers as she grabs the spotlight twice. Her voice with its raspy urgency is a perfect match for the jet propulsion of Polooski’s amplified string and horn production on “Take Care Of Business." Mike Mangini’s reworking of her “Gimme Some” is sunnier but just as danceable.
The disc opens with Truth and Soul’s mix of Dinah Washington’s “Cry Me A River.” If you’re wondering where Amy Winehouse found her inspiration for her latest work here’s your answer. The most exciting newcomer to the series is James Brown -did you remember he was a Verve artist? Kenny Dope’s remix of “There Was a Time” doesn’t attempt to compete with Brown’s dynamic energy; instead it bolsters the masterful phrasing with staccato brass and snare drum. Also new to the proceedings is Marlena Shaw, the first woman signed to the blue note label. “California Soul” ripples with dark undertones thanks to DJ Diplo. Potato & Totico, a 12-member band renowned for their Afro-Cuban sound are resurrected by Antibalas.
The reason that the Verve Remix project is so successful is two-fold. On one hand the discs feature some of the greatest artists of the 1950s and ‘60s and material that represents their definitive work. On the other hand is a group of young producers and DJs who recognize and respect the work of their founding mothers and fathers. This cross pollination has produced an amazing crop of songs that may prove to be as timeless as the originals.