Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Intersection: Nicola Conte

Nicola Conte (guitar)

Nicola Conte, the Italian deejay, jazz guitarist and label impresario (Schema Records), is a thoroughly modern musician who records both traditional sessions of Latin lounge jazz as well as groove-based acid jazz and dance remixes.

Conte first hit the scene in 2000 with Jet Sounds, a Schema release later reissued by Thievery Corporation's label Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) as Bossa Per Due, followed by the remix platter Jet Sounds Revisited in 2002.

Both releases are classic examples of Conte's early approach to bossa nova (the title track), samba ("The In Samba"), exotica ("Missione a Bombay") and soundtrack-influenced ("Dossier Omega") acid jazz that blend home grown samples with genuine musicianship. Not only did Conte grab the attention of ESL and lounge revival fans, luxury carmaker Acura used "Bossa Per Due" in a TV commercial.

Two years later, however, Conte returned with Other Directions for Blue Note's European subsidiary, an impressive release that eschews samples altogether in favor of polished live group performance, with and without male and female vocals. Here, Conte, a classically trained musician, demonstrates his gifts for composition and arranging and his love of bossa nova in particular. He's tapped the creme de la creme of the Italian jazz scene who clearly share his sophisticated swinging sensibilities. Stand-out numbers include the title track, "The Dharma Bums," "Kind of Sunshine" and "A Time for Spring," but the whole album is solid. It's a shame Blue Note didn't release it domestically, because Other Directions is very accessible without alienating jazz aficionados.

In 2008, Conte delivered Viagem, the first of two collections of '60s Brazilian bossa nova and samba nuggets (for Far Out Recordings) as well as another platter of original jazz for Schema called Rituals. Again, this ensemble recording demonstrates Conte's composition and arranging skills more so than his guitar playing, which he, as producer, has relegated to a purely supportive role. Five male and female vocals get the spotlight on many of the tracks, and they prove quite capable. The mood throughout is light, breezy and romantic. It's another solid set that deepens Conte's interest in ethnic percussion and exotic moods while offering a pleasingly laid back vibe that will appeal to both jazz lovers and people who normally shy away from it. Among the standout numbers are the title track, "Karma Flower," "Like Leaves in the Wind" and a vocal version of Duke Ellington's classic "Caravan."

In late 2009, however, came the release we've all been waiting for: The Modern Sounds of Nicola Conte: Versions in Jazz-Dub, a winning double CD collection of the various side projects, remixes, singles and EPs that Conte's put out over the past decade. From his Latin cover of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer's movie theme "Charade" to his reworking of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes' classic "So Danco Samba" to his Gil Evans' inspired remix of Re:Jazz's vibrant "Quiet Nights" Conte solidifies his vision for a modern jazz sound that appreciates its traditions but doesn't neglect the modern music fan's love of a danceable groove. Just get it already.

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