If you're a fan of the meditative side of jazz — sometimes known as “cool” — that Miles Davis pioneered and Nina Simone and Alice Coltrane expanded on, and you're open to getting your beats buttered on the down-tempo funky side, then chillout music might be for you. That, in a nutshell, is the intuitive leap that led the production team of Ellen Tift and Kurt Goebel, aka Worldwide Groove Corporation, to start building tracks for what became their latest album, Chillodesiac Lounge Vol. 1: Fever (Fabulation, 2007).
Chillodesiac Lounge Vol. 1: Fever
“We were actually at a release party for one of the Verve Remixed CDs,” Tift recalls, referring to the eminent jazz label's raid-the-vault series. “I love the idea in theory, but I felt like they didn't really follow through on the atmosphere that those original sounds were creating. That's when it dawned on us that we should just do chillout versions of jazz standards. Even for an audience that's unfamiliar with what's called chillout, if they think it's cool the way we've taken ‘My Funny Valentine’ and reworked it, then that's what we're after.”
Using Propellerhead Reason, Apple Logic, and her trusty Roland JX8P synth as a controller, Tift began experimenting with arrangements for “My Funny Valentine,” the Rodgers and Hart classic, eventually settling on a stripped-down bass line and a Spectrasonics Stylus RMX-generated drum pattern. From there, Goebel added processed keyboards and liquefied sonic textures, including a pitched-down flute sample. Tift sang the breathy lead vocal, availing herself of the song's natural melodic changes to capture its melancholy mood.
“There's a fine line between chillout and smooth jazz,” she explains, “and we didn't want to get into smooth jazz at all. So we had to figure out how melodies like these — which are very chromatic and happen over these really rich harmonic progressions — could fit over a simple harmonic plateau.”
The solution, as Goebel describes it, was to arrange and mix the track — as well as the rest of Chillodesiac Lounge — with an ear toward the lush, psychedelic, and stereo-active soundscapes and rhythms that have been the lifeblood of down-tempo music from early Massive Attack to the latest Thievery Corporation. “It comes down to the way we arrange a song and then treat it with effects,” he says, “but it's also in the beat library we've built up over the years using Reason and Stylus RMX and old hip-hop drum sounds — the dirtier the better. We go for lo-fi loops, and when those don't have quite enough punch on the bottom, we just layer in a kick. So usually we put it in Ableton Live to get the right tempo, and then I bounce it into Logic to double the kicks and snares if I need to.”
Although the album's title track, with its live-sounding rhythm section, leans more toward the organic, signal processing played a key role. Lead singer Missi Hale's vocal went through the Super CamelPhat effects plug-in for EQ scooping and simulated tape delay, while the piano was recorded, resampled, and run through Live's Auto Filter with some added ping-pong delay. Overall, “Fever” evokes a sultry, simmering club mood.
“It's easy to just throw up a synth pad and a drum loop for five minutes and call it chillout,” Goebel says when asked about the four years of meticulous studio work that went into the making of the album. “We really wanted to craft a cool sonic experience.”
WORLDWIDE GROOVE CORPORATION
Home base: Nashville
Key software: Apple Logic Pro 6.4.3, Ableton Live 6, Propellerhead Reason 2.0, reFX Vanguard
Main gear: Wurlitzer student electric piano, Rhodes 88 suitcase, Roland JX8P, Korg Wavestation SR
Web site: www.worldwidegroovecorp.com