A LEGO landscape of muted buildings, Berlin since the wall's fall has been in a perpetual state of development. Cranes sprout daily like inescapable watchtowers, proudly surveying progress. Over the last 10 or so years Berlin has done more, however, than rebuild a unified city. Through a combination of place and people, Berlin has also reconstructed a reputation.
For a city so associated with blocked movement, one of its most noticeable characteristics is how wide and open streets are. Since the cultural floodgates burst, this openness has come to be represented by Berlin's growing roster of globally recognized musicians. Artists such as fractured funk collective Jazzanova.
It's down one quiet side street -- past a small park, within walking distance of the increasingly bustling upper Mitte Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood -- that Jazzanova DJs Alex Barck, Claas Brieler and Jargen Knoblauch and producers Axel Reinemer, Stefan Leisering and Roskow Kretschmann cook up their multicultural melange.
Through a gray courtyard in an artists' loft complex, Jazzanova has set up its office/studio. Here, the group recorded In Between, its debut full-length of original material, coming after more than five years working as the premiere remixers of the bossa-nova-influenced broken_beat/nu_jazz scene. From the members' former cellar studios, they moved here to benefit from windows as open as their musical outlook. From here, they have led a movement changing the "Berlin sound's" global reputation from one of industrial regimentation and technological introspection, to one much more welcoming and worldly.
Jazzanova's world is equally welcoming. Listening to the loops of acts like A Tribe Called Quest introduced the group to jazz. Now Rhodes rolls and Afro-Latin beats as funky as any Nuyorican borough resound from a small glass-enclosed lounge to one side of the office's large main room.
The office is appropriately functional -- Jazzanova's DJs and producers are not flashy multi-instrumentalists or superstar DJs. They're hush-hush more than bling-bling. They're beat diggers, vinyl enthusiasts -- but so's your brother. What really sets Jazzanova apart is a hallmark of Berlin's international nexus, which is an emphasis on layering, be it in the (re)use of buildings or beats.
One of the names originally batted around for In Between was Spaces and Places, and it still appears as a refrain in the song "Soon." Places and spaces -- more than just streets -- have factored heavily into what made Jazzanova, and what Jazzanova has made. Places like the studio's isolation booths, where the group first made the jump from being solely sample collagers and began recording live musicians -- for In Between, they include Vikter Duplaix and Ursula Rucker, among others. And spaces like East Berlin club Delicious Donuts, where the group claims it developed its love for melody. The story goes, several members first DJed acid jazz there, and because the sound system didn't carry bass or beats well, they needed something else to hook the crowd.
In Between ends up a better album name, however, because not only was it recorded in between different people (the six members produce in pairs only) and different times (between remixes), but Jazzanova's sound leaves wide the gates in between genres. Featuring first-rate vocal contributions bulging from pockets deep with rhythms -- from frenzied, funked-up rare-groove rim shots to downtempo dub, hip-house hits to neo_soul cinematics, highly animated anti-techno to more melancholic moods -- In Between achieves a more colorful and playful public personality for the group.
In Between sees Jazzanova fusing natural sounds with rubbery bass and fat programmed beats. Instead of creating a perfect amalgam of elements, as in remixes, Jazzanova represents its six-headed creative hydra without coming off schizophrenic. With In Between, the group is jazzed (pun intended) to shake perceptions of coffee-table bossa 'n' bass chill-out.
"Someone told us once that the way we think about music is very punk, because we build a [label and creative] structure around us that lets us do it our way," says soft-spoken, bespectacled DJ Alex Barck. "I think that has something to do with Berlin -- the ability to get to the point to say, 'Let's just be open to try it.'"
Its sound like its city, Jazzanova has no walls.
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