At Franz und Josef, Berlin
The spaced-out beats and cinematic atmospherics of trip-hop have found their avatar in downtempo pioneer Richard Dorfmeister of Kruder & Dorfmeister and Tosca fame. Despite his wry attitude, sharp opinions and a Viennese predilection for half-a-dozen coffees at a sitting, Dorfmeister remains the epitome of laid-back.
But a quick glance at his résumé shows that Dorfmeister has been a busy man. In addition to commanding a steady schedule of DJ gigs, running the G-Stone label with Peter Kruder and recently becoming a father, there's Tosca, which has become his primary musical concern. A collaboration with childhood friend Rupert Huber, Tosca has been remarkably prolific. Since its legendary “Fuck Dub” 12-inch breakthrough of 1996, the duo has released four full-length CDs (one double), numerous 12-inches and a couple of compilations of multiremix meditations on a single track. The variety of each Tosca project sets out to belie the myth of downtempo's sameness.
Tosca's most recent CD, J.A.C. (!K7/G-Stoned, 2005), is the pair's strongest and most-varied release yet. Featuring a squad of top-notch vocalists, including the great Egyptian expat Samiah Farah and former Galliano singer Earl Zinger, there are occasions when it even speeds up. But it never strays too far from Tosca's trademark dubbiness.
But Dorfmeister is not concerned with the search for the perfect beat. In fact, he's chosen this shopping trip, which precedes a DJ gig with his friend Daniel Haaksmann, to search for samples among the old and the weird at Uwe Trustmann's tiny, overflowing Franz und Josef record shop located on the Kastanienalle in the eastern part of Berlin. Kastanienalle is best known for connecting the hypertrendy Mitte area with the domestic Prenzlauer Berg. Likewise, Dorfmeister views the sample as a bridge between the unfamiliar and the comfortable, the listener and the performer.
“We're just looking for little seconds that are just perfect,” Dorfmeister explains. “I mean, I don't need any more 12-inches. My basement is full of promos. I have to get rid of them!”
Yet Dorfmeister isn't a slave to the sampler, either. “It's just a tiny part, really,” he admits. “We stopped making our music sample-based years ago. We use them as an inspiration, but it's all played now — otherwise, it's just not fun. And Tosca came more from the musician's side than the DJ side.”
And Dorfmeister's selections at Franz und Josef are, with their emphasis on jazz fusion and studio musos, as organic-sounding as his music.
Words of a Mountain (Island)
He's one of the super studio keyboard guys, best known for Grace Jones' albums. [DJ Cam's Inflamable Records] just released a CD [Massive Classics, Volume One] with all the sampled tracks from [Massive Attack's Blue Lines and Protection] albums. And there's Wally Badarou. If you listen to the Massive Attack records, the whole thing is completely sampled. They didn't play anything on the Massive Attack albums. I always thought that at least you played something.
Look at that cover. That's one scary clown. It's orchestral jazz, and Doldinger's fusion band, Passport, was always interesting. He did hundreds of German Krimis [TV cop shows] and the soundtrack to Das Boot. It's easy to find his Passport stuff but not so the early solo albums. I'll find little snippets I can use, but I probably won't listen to it. Still, he was one of the only German jazz players on Atlantic.
Open Road (Epic)
Recently, I've looked more for folky stuff, more for like off-sounding music, and “Changes” has that folky, hippie style — in the J.J. Cale area or even Ry Cooder or the Mark-Almond Band. It's bluesy and American, somehow. Whatever happened to Donovan? He's even made the Dusty Fingers albums, though as soon as something makes a compilation, I won't touch it anymore. As soon as it's officially public, then I think, “It's not for me.”
The Best of Chico Hamilton (Impulse)
Impulse was one of the great '60s jazz labels, and Hamilton always had great guitarists on his albums — Gabor Szabo, Larry Coryell. I don't even know what Hamilton plays. Drums? “Evil Eye” has a unique feeling to it; I can't really explain it, but it's very Impulse. Truth is, this jazz may be a bit traditional for me. I prefer electric fusion, like Miles Davis' Agharta. Pete Cosey's guitar was really hard on those Miles albums.
Ruta and Daitya (ECM)
When it came to production, ECM was really way ahead. They gave the musicians volume. It's like the musicians went for a really heavy dinner in Munich, and they had to play it off. [Laughs.] But they released loads of boring albums that are just unlistenable, though the Nana Vasconcelos records have some great percussion sounds on them. Jarrett was a crazy keyboardist with Miles, but after the Köln concert, he changed and went acoustic. I checked those albums several times, and I could never understand it. I'd use this for Jack De Johnette's percussion sounds.
Universal Rhythm (Polydor)
When I first started playing, I was completely taken by the sound of CTI Records. And Ralph MacDonald seemed to play percussion on all of them. A great studio player like Roy Ayers, he comes from this long tradition of American jazz players doing funk. Unfortunately, that got completely out of style. You look at the jazz scene now; it's just a bore. But when it came back in the '90s as acid jazz, that was a bore, too. All the students are rehearsing [Herbie Hancock's] Head Hunters instead of trying to find something new.
Get Off in Chicago (Ovation)
Here's another session guy, played all genres, including jazz. You know what's missing now from the jazz scene? It's that older funkiness, including artwork — the drugs are probably what are missing. Perhaps the last big jazz records were the Quincy Jones ones with “Summer in the City” and stuff. It doesn't age. But, suddenly, there was the drum machine, and these dry-sounding drums went away. And the [Yamaha] DX7 came along and killed the Rhodes and Moog. Now, there's a demand for this sort of inoffensive lazy listening. Compared to Norah Jones, The K&D Sessions are avant-garde.
Chase the Clouds Away (A&M)
This is unhip. I like the soft flügelhorn sound. I would probably just listen to it because of the sound, and perhaps I'll be lucky, and there'll be something on it. There are loads of unhip artists worth listening to: Dr. John; soul-pop from the '80s is super-unhip in a way, except electro. Embarrassing music doesn't really exist, because if it's embarrassing, it's really funny for me. I'm too much of a fan. Except for Andrew Lloyd Webber. That's really disgusting. How low can you go?
Sneaking Sally Through the Alley (Island)
A friend recommended this several months ago. It has this sort of reggae/white mix that sounds interesting. But it's a bit like doing hip-hop. When white people are doing hip-hop, I'm always a bit skeptical because it's an adapted style. With our music, we at least try to be original instead of copying reggae or hip-hop. We don't let the influences take over. Sometimes, it sounds too much like real reggae.
Franz und Josef; Kastanienalle 48, 10435 Berlin, Germany; 49-30-4171-4682