This set has been a long time coming. Italian composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and label impresario Nicola Conte has been issuing tracks on compilations, on 7", 10", and 12" vinyl for over a decade as mixes, side projects, and reworks. (The latter means that he actually uses his own band to reconceptualize and rearrange an original artist’s recording, more often than not with said artist’s participation.) Most of these cuts came and went, and have been out of print for some time. This killer double-disc set collects virtually all of them in a single spot -- 26 tracks' worth on his Schema imprint. The range of artists is staggering, from Mark Murphy, Til Brönner, Jose James, and Marco Di Marco to Fertile Ground, the Five Corners Quintet, Maki Mannami, and Roberto Roena.
Highlights on disc one include Mark Murphy’s “Stolen Moments (Midnight Mood Rework)”; his own Latin-ized cover of Henry Mancini’s and Johnny Mercer’s “Charade,” with Lisa Bassenge on vocals, and the killer reconstruction of [RoviLink="MN"][re:jazz][/RoviLink]’s “Quiet Nights” subtitled “Out of the Cool Version,” after the Gil Evans session on Impulse! that inspired it. But tracks like the Jack Lawrence and Arthur Altman standard “All or Nothing at All,” by Conte's group with Jose James on vocals, are stellar examples of his ability to chart for large ensembles and make them rhythmically compelling and harmonically adventuresome, yet contain utterly smooth textures. Disc two contains the gorgeous reworking of Til Brönner’s version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s and Vinicius de Moraes’ “Só Danço Samba,” that retains Brönner’s vocal and trumpet solo, but conceives everything else -- Conte’s guitar work on this track is stellar. The 12” of the Sunaga T Experience’s “A Healing Blue (Shape of Jazz to Come Version)” features Sheila Landis adding lyrics to the composition and fronting the Italian quintet. Also check the Afro-Cuban rework of Dave Brubeck’s classic “Take Five!” by Roberto Roena.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you know anything about Conte’s side project work, or his singles -- there are plenty of them here -- if you dig the man’s music, you’ll flip for The Modern Sounds of Nicola Conte: Versions in Jazz-Dub. It is a seamless, utterly engaging collection of 21st century clubjazz rooted in the traditions of bossa, West Coast, progressive big band, continental, and post-bop jazz, as well as 21st century electronic music that has something on it for everyone. ~ Thom Jurek