While German-based DJ/producer collective Jazzanova has mastered the art of the genre blend, most of the group's tracks are rooted in soul. The group's recent release, Of All the Things, features soul heavyweights such as Phonte of Little Brother, Dwele and Leon Ware, among others. Jazzanova member Stefan Leisering took the time to give Remix his list of top-10 favorite tracks, which exemplify the roots of this nü-jazz/electronic/soul group. “For me, the 10 following songs are good examples of the perfect match of composition, studio performance — including the lead singers, as well as the studio musicians — and studio production, which also includes raw low-fi recordings,” Leisering says.
The Ambassadors, “Ain't Got the Love (Of One Girl on My Mind)” (Arctic)
Released as a 7-inch in 1968 and on their great Soul Summit album in 1969, this is one of my all-time favorites in the soul music genre. It's a classic vocal harmony, Philly-soul track with Leon Huff, Vince Montana and Earl Young being part of the studio band.
Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies, “American Metaphysical Circus” (Columbia)
Joe Byrd was the mastermind behind the group the United States of America, and this was his first effort after he left the band. This group is said to be one of the first bands to use synths in rock songs. In the intro, it starts with a strange tape-loop collage, later switching into a downtempo proto trip-hop song. A real weird trip — musically, as well as lyrically.
The Chrysalis, “Fitzpatrick Swanson” (MGM)
This is a fine example of the so-called pop-psych genre. It's just such a nice and danceable song with nice string arrangements. This schooled my ears for the track “Lie,” where I took my first try in arranging a string quartet.
Marvin Gaye, “You” (Tamla)
Digging for lost inspiring tunes does not necessarily mean searching for the rarest-of-the-rare vinyls. For instance, when listening to Marvin Gaye's In the Groove album, I stumbled across the wonderful “You.” The minor chord changes, the mellow riff during the verses, the soulful background choirs responding to Marvin's passionate singing, the slightly distorted drums and percussion, the strings — an irresistible mixture for me.
Baby Huey, “Hard Times” (Curtom)
This is heavy hard-hitting soul from Chicago. The song was originally written by Curtis Mayfield and has all the beloved ingredients that a real Chicago soul production needs. When I heard it the first time years ago, I was blown away by the energetic force that the drummer and the bassist deliver. Such a solid basement.
Bob James, “Nautilus” (CTI)
Think you haven't heard it already? Sure you have. As been sampled by EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Run-DMC, Group Home, Jeru, Ghostface Killah and dozens of others, this must be one of the most used tracks in hip-hop history. But besides being a fine sampling source for producers, this is an outstanding orchestral-jazz track taking you on a dive into the deep sea. When Bob James starts his spheric electric-piano solo, drummer Idris Muhammad switches from hi-hat to ride cymbal, and the stuttering beat of the intro starts to flow and drift away with the solo and the strings. Until I finally found the Yamaha YC-30 organ (a smaller version of the organ Bob plays on this track), I always wondered, what synth makes the strange space sound of the breakdown? Simply enable “sustain” and “marimba/tremolo” and play some short notes.
J.K. & Co., “Fly” (White Whale)
The amazing track “Fly” is my favorite from the strong psychedelic pop/rock album Suddenly One Summer by Jay Kaye, who was just 15 years old when he wrote and recorded the album. The hypnotic backward piano and the drums sound as though they could have been a part of a production from the '90s or '00s. Obviously Kaye was influenced by The Beatles' studio albums; I've heard some people say this song sounds like a lost Radiohead song.
Steve Kuhn, “Meaning of Love” (Buddah)
Since I discovered this 1971 self-titled album by Steve Kuhn, it's always at the top of my “at-home playlist.” The song “Meaning of Love” — later sung by Karin Krog — has such a strong impact on me. The magic play of the rhythm musicians — Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, Airto Moreira — with the deep electric piano and the hypnotizing, slightly off-key debut vocal performance by Steve Kuhn, plus the string quartet arranged by Gary McFarland (his last musical contribution before he sadly died much too young before the release of this album at the age of 38) make this song pure magic — truly inspiring.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “We Had a Love So Strong” (Tamla)
This song was written by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright, but neither of them ever recorded it. I don't know if this one was originally intended for Stevie's Talking Book album or if it had been penned specifically for Smokey's falsetto voice. Every time I listen to this wonderful sweet soul song, I start drifting into clouds of strange jazzy chord changes, lovely soul vocal harmonies, muted synth leads and a highly addictive melody.
Tommy Rodgers, “Pass the Word” (AJP Records)
I found this song on a dusty 7-inch released on Ahmad Jamal's own label. I listened to it over and over around the time I started to compose the first sketch for “I Can See.” “Pass the Word” is an uplifting Northern soul tune recorded in a raw and low-budget studio session.