Easily one of the richest musical releases of the new millennium. Berlin Serengeti is one of those rare records with both an immediate impact on the listener and the depth to grow even on the most demanding of palettes
Big, dirty beats hit you first and hit you hard. The crackle and pop from the beats is soon out crackled by the versatile and enigmatic vocal tones of Bajka. ‘The Hop’ is just about as perfect as a song can be for radio play from the folks that know.
What becomes clear very soon though is that the knack for a catchy tune is not the main show, it is just a welcome bonus. Berlin’s Niko Schabel puts his finger on what makes so much music in the nu jazz/beats area so forgettable when he complains, “I am bored with lazy programming and lounge-overkill.”
Nothing on this album is lazy. Songs do not emerge from a layering of pleasing effects in the studio. This is 21st century soul jazz, every track has something to say; its funky form is not an end in itself but a means to an end; a frame to hold interesting ideas and explore musical avenues.
Schabel is a multi-instrumentalist himself (with his own jazz quartet on the side) and the aim of this project is to produce a live sound with a band of fellow multi-instrumentalists. For the album, live sounds, sampler work and mixing deskology are artfully combined with Bajka’s dusky vocals. The result is that pretty much any of the tunes could be released as singles and all of them stand up to repeated and critical listening. “My tracks are done when everything is essential and nothing can be taken away… When it shines, when it’s dark and deep,” Schabel explains.
Suckers for a ska backbeat come dub will find themselves singing along in Spanish and English to ‘El Cielo’ once they have recovered from the jazz athletics of ‘Night I’ and ‘Night II’. As with all the tracks on the album. and any good jazz number, the bass lines keep it swinging and anchor the experiments.
The only downside is that this German gem is not out until 12 September. It’s simply not acceptable and I urge you to go to Ubiquity’s website and state your protest.
1. The Hop
4. Night Part I
5. Night Part II
6. El Cielo
8. The Prophets
11. Black Forest
16. Love Serenity Blues