MAGNUS ZINGMARK of KOOP with JAZZANOVA as part of MOVEMENT at Roxy Blu (12 Brant) Friday (October 4). $12-$15.
You can almost see the jazz elite tugging at their beards in disgust at the thought that a couple of skirt-wearing DJs from Sweden might be the future of their music.
As Koop, the duo of Oscar Simonsson and Magnus Zingmark have been getting heads nodding on dance floors as well as at many of the most prestigious festivals around the world with their forward-looking take on jazz. The duo's elegant Waltz For Koop album is at once modern and rooted in the history of the music, a seamless integration of live instrumentation, samples and vocals from Terry Callier, Earl Zinger and teenage soul chanteuse Yukimi Nagano.
Simonsson and Zingmark's approach to jazz is a novel one. They're both massive fans of the music, but come at it from the clubs, not the live scene.
"We'd both grown up listening to jazz but abandoned the music as teenagers after we discovered hiphop," Zingmark explains from Los Angeles. He DJs as part of Movement Friday. "There's actually a pretty solid hiphop scene in Sweden, and when we started, we actually wanted to make hiphop tracks but couldn't find an MC. The more I listened to the music, though, the more it brought me back to jazz.
"Our first efforts as Koop were more about electronics and sounds and grooves than proper songs. We wanted to experiment, so we got that out of our system and then felt that we were ready to write real songs. The first thing we wrote for Waltz For Koop was the title track, which really set the tone for the album."
That tone is about being as organic as dirt. It's a vibe captured best in Summer Sun, a driving three-minute jazz/samba blast that really was the song of the summer. The duo play their samplers with flair, and aside from a couple of obvious lifts, it's hard to tell where the loops end and the live work begins.
"This album is entirely sample-based, maybe 90 per cent if you take away the vocals," Zingmark insists. "Even though the rhythms are completely programmed, it's more dynamic than your typical electronic record. It's a live album without many live musicians.
"It's not easy. A song like Summer Sun took us 11 months to do because it's built from so many different samples. Usually, people just add a sax player over top of their drum machines, but we really tried to integrate those sounds and styles."
Koop keep that focus throughout the album in part because they understand the pop world as much as the benefit of a driving beat. The duo also have very specific ideas of what jazz should be, which are rooted more in the trad jazz world than the free-flying 60s improv scene.
"What sets us apart is that for Koop, it's all about the song," Zingmark says. "Our entire groove is written around the vocals, rather than just focusing on the hardest drums and the funkiest beats. We're songwriters at heart.
"There's a great tradition of pop music in jazz, from Ella Fitzgerald to Chet Baker. Jazz in the late 60s became something different, though, something that was all about improvisation. We prefer the song and think that you don't need a four-minute solo in the middle of the tune."
After a summer of top billings at prestigious jazz fests like Montreux and Umbria, Koop are clearly on to something. The only thing potentially stopping them from a complete jazz breakout is Simonsson and Zingmark's habit of wearing dresses, seen best on the cover of their album.
"The truth is, that photo wasn't meant to be the cover of the album," he laughs. "We wanted to do something different than the usual fashion-style photo shoot, and this is what came out. It was too good not to use.
"The dresses are ours. We bought them second-hand. I think we look quite attractive in them."