Album Review: Giving new life to the sound of Detroit: BBE Music proudly presents ‘Strata Records – The Sound of Detroit – Reimagined by Jazzanova’

The Breakdown

BBE Music 8.0

In association with DJ Amir and 180 Proof,  BBE Music’s newest drop is nothing short of a brand new celebration of something already iconic. ‘Strata Records – The Sound Of Detroit – Reimagined By Jazzanova’ is the wonderful, full-length project by the Berlin-based production collective who have lovingly reworked some of the standout moments from Strata’s exclusive catalogue.

Since their first release back in 1974, Detroit-based record label Strata Records has gained legendary status amongst true music fans. Despite its relatively short initial lifespan, the revolutionary label (formed by Kenny Cox, Charles Moore, and others) has been revered by such music tastemakers as Theo Parrish and Gilles Peterson for its famously emotive, raw cuts.

“I couldn’t think of a more perfect band to do this work,” Amir Abdullah says about Jazzanova, a combination of DJs, record collectors and musicians, “because they brought passion and love to the project, because they know the music and love the music. And on top of that, they know how to play.” This unlikely pairing is the result of years of work and passion from Amir, the DJ and label-head for 180-Proof Records. In 2011, 180 Proof began reissuing Strata Records’ back-catalog from the vaults, with both DJ Amir and Jazzanova now breathing new life into eleven hand-picked tracks.

First single from the album Creative Musicians indicated that this is a ‘strictly no covers’ album. Jazzanova’s take on The Lyman Woodard Organization’s musical manifesto makes this clear, with Afrobeat-inspired horn arrangements, drum track, and syncopated tempo. The serene funk of third track Joy Road melts seamlessly into the misty sophistication of Face at my Window, with alluring keys, horns and Sean Haefeli’s smooth, emotional vocals. An intense, ten-minute Root in 7/4 Plus sees Jazzanova extend this original track to incorporate an impressive and galloping rhythm that brings home Hafaeli’s mantra: “the blues are all around me.”

And the beautiful interpretations keep coming: “I really tried to combine my knowledge of club music and electronic music with a soundtracky and funky vibe,” Leisering says about the whole rework. A prime example of this is Saturday Night Special, where Jazzanova’s take on the lo-fi jazz funk classic sounds more like a nightclub strut than the lower-key original. Similarly, Inside ourselves shows its sweet spot in melded elements of afro/latin jazz, guitars and electric keyboards. The album’s closing track Loser is, as Leisering explains, “seventies street blues with a soul-jazz vibe.” The guitar reverb gives a modern feel, with Haefeli’s vocals lending a gloomy yet dreamy dimension.  

Jazzanova’s creative community is constantly evolving. Originally a collaboration between DJs and producers, the 5 members created future-focused dance music inspired by a shared love of most music, but mainly old records. Also playing as a live band, the group enjoyed reinterpreting classic sounds in making new material. So it made perfect sense that with this new album they should celebrate the legacy of an obscure jazz label from Detroit. For Leisering, there’s no contradiction, “because we aren’t just musicians and remixers, we are also record collectors, and I love rare records, and I love listening to stuff that isn’t even available, because it’s obscure and lost.”

Re-emerging and reimagined in Berlin fifty years later, DJ Amir and Jazzanova translate the diverse sounds and styles of the Strata Records legacy into a soulful and cohesive musical statement that honors the label’s community of creative musicians.

LP Strata Records – The Sound Of Detroit – Reimagined By Jazzanova is out NOW via 180 Proof/BBE Music.

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