ACT: 20 Years of Magical Music
A word that pops up again and again in the compilations released by ACT is "magic." This is also the case with the release of its Jubilee Album, which is subtitled 20 Magic Years. Indeed, there have been many highlights, or magic moments, throughout the label's 20 years and the latest releases promise more to come. Listening through the diverse constellations on the anniversary-sampler, it becomes clear that the company's recipe for success lies in its openness towards other genres, whether it's flamenco, classical, funk, pop, rock, grunge or electronic music. ACT isn't a jazz label that practices musical purity. Instead, the following releases, taken from a vast and ever-growing catalog, underline Loch's belief that the most interesting music arises in the cross-fertilization of genres.
Vince Mendoza / Arif Mardin
The very first title in the ACT catalog is marked by the label's ambition of crossing genres. Jazzpaña is an interesting experiment, combining modern big band jazz with flamenco. Vince Mendoza conducts the WDR Big Band and an authentic flamenco group, Los Jovenes Flamencos, whose charismatic singer, Ramon "El Portugues" immediately sets the stage for a different kind of musical experience on the opener, "El Vito Cante." Here, Ramon's voice soars and reaches across the rooftops, incarnating a burning passion in the middle of a foil of rolling Spanish guitars, singing flutes and bubbling electric bass.
"Entre Tinieblas" takes full advantage of the big band sound, incorporating solid sheets of brass in a hectic stew of rhythms where folklore mixes with fusion in a polyphonic blend of musical voices. Along the way, several prominent guests contribute to the project, among them, guitarist Al Di Meola and drummer Peter Erskine. Saxophonist Michael Brecker also turns up on the funky "Buleria" and delivers a stellar solo that increases the heat in a performance that is already burning.
Jazzpaña is unique in its blend of Spanish folklore and modern jazz, acoustic and electric sounds. Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain (Columbia, 1960) is the immediate reference for a work like this, but it is much more sprawling than Davis' masterpiece and is sometimes even imposing with its dramatic effects and pathos. However, it is a unique experiment that succeeds and the record became the blueprint for further travels into foreign sound worlds. It showed that aesthetically Loch wasn't satisfied to stay rooted in one place.
Tales from Viêt-nam
During the live recordings for Jazzpaña Siggi Loch met the Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê who has become a central musician in the label's roster and was its first exclusive artist. Lê perfectly fits Loch's idea of a communicative artist. As a musician, he speaks many languages, blending the heritage of traditional Vietnamese music with jazz and the pyrotechnics of Jimi Hendrix.
Tales from Viêt-nam is perhaps Lê's most bold exploration of his past. Using a group with people from all around the world, he creates a mesmerizing music that is meditative, rhythmically vibrant and forceful. The beautiful voice of Huong Thanh is a strong presence on the album and her gentle lyricism a perfect contrast to Lê's electrically charged guitar solo on "Trông Comthe Rice Drum."
The music combines the hectic living of the big city with the exotic sounds of the rainforest. It's a kind of lyrical ethnic fusion where washes of synthesizers blend with a wealth of percussive sounds. Just like Jazzpaña, Tales from Viêt-nam creates a world that only exists on record and yet it references the actual meeting of different cultures. For instance, the lovely "Spring of Life" combines the minimalism of French composer Eric Satie with exotic flourishes of percussion and an ethereal trumpet solo.
Throughout the record, Lê guides the music through its different movements and gently steps aside when it's needed. In every way, there's respect to be found herefor tradition and the musicians, who contribute to a work that stands out in a diverse and fascinating discography.
Notes from the Heart
Another prominent guitarist on ACT is Ulf Wakenius, whose profound sense of melody and lyricism comes into full fruition on his tribute to pianist and composer Keith Jarrett. Talking about the title in the liner notes, Wakenius says: "I have named the CD Notes from the Heart and that is what I have tried to doplay every note from the heart to celebrate Keith Jarrett."