Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Robo-Kraut

Posted By on Wed, Sep 6, 2000 at 12:00 AM

One night last month, I found myself lolling on the patio of a massive pile — one part Mies, three parts Mobutu — in a well-heeled part of Dakar, Senegal. Try as I might, the irony machine set itself awhir: If only I had the right music on the stereo, I could be enjoying a moment right off the pages of Wallpaper. Alas, one month too late, the music has arrived.

Considering that we last heard from Trance Groove three years ago on the group’s debut, Paramount, it’s about time. Acid jazz has always been a dicey proposition — when classic Blue Note and Stax recordings are a genre’s touchstones, there’s a long way to fall. Happily, this rather dashing (albeit motley) German sextet has never had a problem with footing. Whatever you think of its Fassbinder-meets-Beastie Boys look or the unfortunately square name, the talent is undeniable. The band seems at once well-tutored in the classics and fearlessly willing to extrapolate from them, fashion be damned.

“Saudade” is little more than atmospheric synth wash, flügelhorn noodlings and some Astrud Gilberto-esque cooing from one of the bandmember’s molls laid over a hypnotic beat. But it’s eight minutes of absolute cool. As is “Qu’es-ce que tu fais.” The opening track, “Helsinki Snow,” is a flawless, ballsy conflation of acid jazz with house-flavored trance, sounding as if it were a gem kept on ice for the past decade while trip hop came and spent itself. “Vegetarian Popstar,” a pure funk throwdown, stepped out of a time machine set for Chicago, 1975. The only misstep is a dub number, “Radio Faya,” that’s far too cheery for its own good.

The charm of Trance Groove was and still is muscular ensemble riffing. No smooth-jazz pantywaists or geeky knob-twiddlers are these gents from Cologne. There’s nothing original or particularly intriguing about what they do, but they do it with a considerable amount of cheek and a lot of energy. Despite the many inflections to many swinging antecedents, the music never seems precious or kitschy, as is the case with, say, Dmitri from Paris, a fellow Continental traveler to the space-age bachelor pad. Solid sound, solid vibes.

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