Koop means co-operation and come from a universe where Miles Davis never made Bitches Brew, replacing swing with funk, but instead double basses kept walking and jazz kept swinging all the way until the sampler arrived to chop it up. Not electronic music with a touch of jazz, but jazz sparingly laced with electronics.
What's really co-operating in Koop’s music, apart from the core duo of composers / arrangers / producers Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson with their wide range of collaborators, is the sixties vocaljazz-magic of Swedish icon Monica Zetterlund with a producer-focused 2001.
Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson, both from Sweden’s main university-town Uppsala, now residing in Stockholm, were the first two jazzheads in their hometown to lose interest in the perpetual Hammond organ-licking of Jimmy Smith. Instead they embarked together down the more rewarding paths of hardbop and raw latin beats, avoiding fusion’s tendency to dilute the original spirit of jazz.
Arriving at that point from, in Magnus’ case, hip hop’s Golden Age of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions to the Detroit-techno euphoria of Inner City and their acid house-cousins and, in Oscar’s case, from Bird’s Parkers Mood and John Coltrane’s Alabama to playing the piano in a succession of DIY-jazz combos, the two decided to join forces in helping Swedish jazz regain that momentum it’s lacked ever since the sixties when all creativity and forward thinking talent escaped the genre. Perceiving jazz as rhythm and form rather than the orthodox idea of jazz being merely improvisation, Koop manages to escape the staleness of both some programmed music’s lack of variety, and some contemporary jazz recordings’ dead end fixation with clean sound.
On this, their second album, Magnus and Oscar have attempted to capture the combined elegance and rawness of the Clarke/Boland Sextet. An impressive cast of previously unknown, famous and legendary vocalists support the main instruments of piano, bongos & delicate percussion. Dissatisfied with the current industry standard of +70 minute albums, Koop make sure the new album, although two and a half years in the making, is brief in length while rich in content, like all the classic albums of the past.
Indeed, this album may well become a classic in its own right if one were to trust the lucky few who own a promo-CD. Waltz For Koop had been played, charted and loved to death by people like Kruder & Dorfmeister, Nuspirit Helsinki, Jazzanova, Rainer Trüby, Alan Brown, Les Gammas, DJ Mad Mats and Nick Weston. To this end BBC Radio One's highly esteemed DJ Gilles Peterson confidently exclaimed:
“The album of the year has already arrived!”
“Waltz For Koop” was the first track to be recorded for the album and was a breakthrough, it set the standard for the whole collection of songs. The making of “Waltz for Koop” also marks the first time Koop took the word bagatelle (which means: had not to be strange in structure etc but very simple , like the A/A/B/A formula of jazz) in their mouths. Shorter and sweeter than anything previously coming from the Koop studio the Waltz is one of those tunes that will make any season feel like summertime, the strings painting vast skies and oceans across this beautiful, sparsely decorated soundscape, with Cecilia Stalin's zero gravity vocal delivery complementing perfectly. Waltz for Koop is no less than Nordic light set to music.
Straight into some musical and emotional darkness, then. “Tonight” was written in fifteen minutes and sounds like classic European jazz, no kidding. Mikael Sundin in the role of the lonesome lover communicates some true blue feelings whilst the chord-progressions spices the whole thing bittersweet.
“Baby” is “Waltz For Koop”'s little sister. Having a second track with the same kind of arrangement as an old one would have been unthinkable in the less relaxed days of Koop's first album a couple of years ago, but some ideas are just too good to use only once. Or what would the Four Tops have been without “I Can't Help Myself” and “It's The Same Old Song?” Is it Koop gone pop or double-strike breakthrough-tactics gone jazz? Beats me. The first time ever Magnus and Oscar wrote a song at the piano before writing a groove first, “Baby” paints that Swedish summer-sound once again, confident you just won't get enough of it.
Cited by legendary radio jazzman Gilles Peterson as one of the two songs that really make him happy (the other was a tune by someone called Stevie Wonder). “Summer Sun” is the brightest, most euphoric thing we've heard in years. The vocal is a story in itself. Hijacked from Gothenburg’s Octagon Session, the then 15-year-old Yukimi Nagano was spotted by the Koop-boys at a jazz talent contest where, while rows of 5-stringed bass-broilers did their university fusion-thing, some real raw emotion suddenly bursted from the stage. Yukimi was eventually enlisted by Koop for the album. She lays down two impressive vocal performances on this album. Definitely a talent to watch. The recently released 12” “Music In Her Eyes” by Swell Session (Hollow Records) also features Yukimi on vocals.
“Soul For Sahib” is a jazz dance-stormer with references back to the Clarke / Boland Sextet and the rough hard bop of the fifties. With some words on his modus operandi from the man himself - flautist Sahib Shihab - the flute on the track is played by Magnus Lindgren. Dedicated to Shihab, Lindgren’s urgent playing in particular manages to trick Koop into including far more soloing than they usually prefer just by blowing so goddamn funky. Play it out and watch the 'heads drop their jaws!
“Modal Mile” comes complete with something of a mini-play from London's highly acclaimed mystery-character Earl Zinger. The beat-poet is cold and tired walking down New York City’s 10th Street, but double bass and vibes keep you warm and cosy when rain hammers out conga patterns outside your window.
Which producer wouldn't want to work with Terry Callier? In recent years Callier has enjoyed a well-earned renaissance thanks to some dedicated fans of his emotionally charged songs. Rather than making an attempt to equal the expansive strings-led arrangements of Callier's classic albums, Koop take the legend to a small, dark, somewhat damp place using a looping backing track and let Terry's voice alone heat it up.
“Relaxin' At Club F****n” is a tribute to Stockholm’s most respected music-club, and a humorous insult, since the club’s name is probably Koop’s least favourite word. Raw Fusion as it's called nowadays, has been going strong for the larger part of a decade and never lets the serious music-lover down. It's at Fusion that top dj’s from all over can play to a crowd who appreciate the deeper side, and they can play whatever they want. Like Philadelphia’s King Britt who closed his deep house-set majestically with “Waltz For Koop”, complete with shouts to the boys.
Another track graced by the no fuss-vocals of Yukimi Nagano, “Bright Nights” is a soundtrack to those frail, still moments in the wee small hours of morning. Brushes merely whisper the drum-pattern and a hesitant vibes+voice-melody repeats until it succumbs to sleep. But don’t worry. Soon it's another day and you’ll wake up to “Waltz For Koop” once more. Can't you almost hear those seagulls already, serenading a new dawn for a new jazz, or maybe a new jazz for a new dawn?
Is it my dreams getting all funny or is the future sounding exceptionally bright?
Music does things like that to you every now and then. At least this music does.