When Sonar Kollektiv first opened its doors in the late ’90s, acid jazz was already fading into something more commercial. And while the “eclectic lounge” sound happily embraced genre-splicing, clubgoers and critics alike questioned how the afterhours music scene might evolve. Today, just try to tell label chiefs Jazzanova that these chilled-out vibes have seen their day. After 10 years of floating their mercurial jazz/hip-hop/house fusions onto mixes and dancefloors, their Sonar Kollektiv imprint continues to push the ever-blooming sound that it helped establish as the electronic music staple it is today.
Many labels claim to explore versatility, but Sonar has embraced its cross-genre directive with a voracious appetite for both stylistic and compositional fusion, resulting in a dizzying array of unexpected sonic blends. Ten Years, Who Cares? delivers a satisfying sampling of the label’s better finds; it’s a great starter for those still unfamiliar with Jazzanova’s stable and highlights why DJs continue to look to Sonar for new finds. The first CD culls together Sonar singles, mostly of the downtempo, soul-drenched-vocal variety. More than anything, the Sonar Kollektiv sound is a lush one: rhythms abound, rich in instrumentation and shimmering with dense layers. The most memorable pieces bind these sumptuous passages with percussive structures, like Soulphiction’s “Used,” where Suzana Rozkosny’s breathy croons morph rugged, macho beats into something eloquent and sultry. Forss’ “Using Splashes” could be the gem of this collection, showcasing the effortless pastiche for which SK is renowned: Dreamy atmospherics, hip-hop swipes, and grimy funk smolder together seamlessly, as beats tug and pull at each other, shuffling to fit within a tricky breakbeat puzzle.
Ten Years’ second CD, a mixed set, better demonstrates the palpable, we-just-really-love-music exuberance of Jazzanova’s sound, a vibe that the group’s fans will recognize from their peerless sophomore album In Between (certainly one of the most sophisticated albums ever produced in the amorphous “lounge” category). Like In Between, it’s hard to find a bad tune on this dancefloor-directed disc: A soaring, yearning remix of the Jazzas’ track “That Night” opens the mix, while Sequel’s “I’ve Been Waiting” flexes wavy, psychedelic notes into a gentle reverb of melody and funk, only to dissolve into a throaty, deep-house vocal growl. Techno also makes an appearance: Moonstarr’s elegant “Detroit” lives up to its moody namesake by dropping angular tones onto ethereal melodies, creating a simple, pulsing cadence that’s nothing short of electrifying. Segueing into Swedish duo Arken’s supple, acid-tinged track, “Arken 10,” the Jazzanova compilers display their expert mixing ears, rubbing coarse techno textures into a smooth, ambient-house vibe.
After all this time, it’s easy to forget why people started talking about acid jazz in the first place, but Ten Years reminds us how seductive this sound can be. Maybe the voodoo lies in the music’s ability to instantly conjure images of cool: Elegant, chill vibes emanate from these pieces, going down as easily as that icy cocktail in your hand. Ten Years is a vibrant document of lounge morphing into its next phase–and a testament to how genre categories, even a decade ago, are rendered meaningless to the knowing ear.