Hidden Jazz Quartett ‘Raw and Cooked’ (Agogo) 4/5

hidden-jazz-quartetSometimes in music, though perhaps not often enough, record label owners have a clear vision of what their label’s output should sound like. The classic example would be Manfred Eicher of ECM, a true visionary. Moments of clear thinking aligned with the passion and dedication to see a project through often develop from hearing performers play in different settings and being bold enough to put something new together with a particular sound or musical collaboration in mind. And this is how The Hidden Jazz Quartett came about. Ralf Zitzmann, Agogo Records label head, masterminded the production behind the eclectic sounds that make up “Raw and Cooked”. As the respected elder statesman of the German club scene explains; “One night, while our Calameri Moon Club in Hannover was cooking and the DJ’s were spinning spicy jazz sounds I thought- it sounds so fresh and vibrant like there’s a jazz quartet hidden somewhere behind the curtain.” Zitzmann took to the phone and called saxophonist Stephen Abel, organist Lutz “Hammond” Krajenski, drummer Matthias “Maze” Meusel and bassist Olaf Casimir, all well travelled musicians, and The Hidden Jazz Quartett was born. Producer Christian Decker was brought in and the label head’s idea soon became a reality.

“Raw and Cooked” has an energy to it that that is both immediately likeable and fresh. It’s late night club sound evoking the past, present and future, it’s jazz chops positively at the fore, with its cool and vibrant, almost lazy grooves tuning in and dropping out throughout the excellent recording. The album features guest artists Bajka, Omar, Greg Blackman, Anthony Joseph and Tim Hollingsworth. What is apparent throughout the session though, is that the cool sounds created by the quartet are never lost or watered down and when a vocalist does take the lead, it is very much in keeping with the ethos of the album. Kicking off proceedings is the wonderfully seductive “Luvlite” featuring a gorgeously chilled vocal from Bajka. A mix of soul, jazz and modern R&B ensues, at once setting the tone for the album. UK modern soul legend Omar then raises the temperature with the excellent, uber-cool “High Heels”; an instant classic. The band let out the swing on “The Footlocker”, providing some first class, spirited performances. It’s not just the way these guys play with a refreshing fearlessness, it’s obvious they’re enjoying creating the vibe, none more so than organist Krajenski who excels throughout the whole session. Greg Blackman provides the soulful vocals on “Tap on the backdoor” before Bajka takes things back to the nitty gritty with “Soulsophy”. “Kimberley Hotel” is a kind of Last Poets vs Hustler’s Convention excursion translated for our times, with Trinidad born poet Anthony Joseph voicing the spoken word. “Nardis” has a distinct late 60’s, early 70’s feel to it, whilst “Walzer”, almost mystical in a European jazz kind of way, was actually the band’s first release back in 2010 as a limited edition 10″ vinyl. Tim Hollingsworth provides a deep, late night feel to the jazz standard “Lush Life”, an interesting take on this timeless classic. The band sign off with bonus versions of what could well become their theme tune, “Luvlite”.

“Raw and Cooked” may well appeal to many, being an engaging mix of jazz, soul and late night club music. It all fits together very nicely, testament to the skills of the quartet themselves, and of producer Christian Decker who has succeeded in achieving a wonderful vibe whilst remaining true to the sincerity of the different elements of the music being performed. With its cool grooves it’s chilled yet modern, making for a very enjoyable listen.

Mike Gates