Nicola Conte spinning as part of Movement with John Kong , Jason Palma , Dee Jay Nav and DJ AKI at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Saturday (November 15). $10 advance. 416-703-4862. Rating: NNNNN
Since the club remix game became a matter of paying big money for the use of a trendy DJ's name, it's been increasingly rare to hear a reworking that's as exciting as the original track. And, really, why should jet-setting producers bother to do more than a tweak if they're really being paid for their brand recognition value? The whole sorry situation has just made the stylishly jazz-sussed craftsmanship of urbane Italian production ace Nicola Conte stand out that much more. Seeing his name on a 12-inch, you can be certain that at the very least it will be a clever enhancement, if not a drastic improvement, on the original.
A serious jazz aficionado, with a vinyl fiend's knowledge of the music's history and a deep respect for the aesthetic, Conte isn't the quick-fix remix type who'll drop in a percussion break and call it a day. He's always thinking beyond the dance floor.
So if you hire him for a job, you get the full-on Conte treatment, which typically involves reconfiguring the tune with his elite acoustic jazz corps from the basic chord structure on up. Just check his stunningly elegant New Rhumba Version of the Dining Rooms' Flamenco Sketches (Schema): it sounds like an entirely new song.
"There's no point in doing a remix if it's not going to be as good as the original," insists Conte before a club night in Los Angeles. "You've got to at least do something different. The original Dining Rooms track had only the vocal part over four bars, followed by another four bars. That was it.
"So I started to play some chords at the piano and it brought to mind a Victor Feldman album on Riverside. I tried a modal thing based around a blues structure, and it worked really well harmonically with the singer's voice. Then I added a bridge and my guys came up with their solos, which took the track to a whole different place."
At the same time that Conte was overhauling the Dining Rooms track, he was working on the follow-up to his critically acclaimed Jet Sounds (Schema) disc, best known for the song Bossa Per Due which was used in an Acura television commercial. Don't count on Conte to follow Ludovic Navarre into cheesy St. Germain-style sample foolishness. He's sworn off sampling completely.
Conte's now playing guitar in his own jazz combo - modelled after the classic Basso-Valdambrini Octet - and recorded the new album live in the studio to analog tape. At the moment, Conte is working out the details of a major-label deal, but expects the album to appear early next year.
"This is the most important work I've ever done in my life. Everything I've been doing up until now has been leading up to this record.
"I've written and arranged all the music and I've assembled the best Italian jazz players of my age for the sessions, which we recorded playing together in the studio just like a 60s jazz session. The quality of the musicianship is outstanding. Think of those records by the Clarke-Boland Sextett or Tubby Hayes, something like that."
Naturally, Conte's appreciation for 60s jazz is reflected in his DJ sets, which typically include rare Euro jazz gems from the likes of Rolf Kuhn and Guido Manusardi that won't sound out of place alongside his own mixes of Rosalia de Souza and Aldemaro Romero joints.
"I try to play things that fit in with my sound, like recent releases from Denmark's Povo and Finland's Five Corners Quintet as well as some jazzy leftfield electronic stuff like Koop and a bit of Brazilian-flavoured house.
"But don't worry," he laughs, "there will be plenty of jazz like Freddie Hubbard's Open Sesame, Gigi Gryce's Minority, the Michael Naura Quintet's version of Down In The Village and more. This will be my first time in Canada, so I'll do my very best to make a good impression."