On the Island of Koop

9 11 2007

Koop

By Derek Beres

The ascension of this Swedish duo has been auspicious. They slithered into a comfortable niche when Palm Pictures released Waltz For Koop in the summer of 2002, somehow carving a space in an inundated world of jazzy electronica. The realization that computers could help make great jazz was a revelation already two decades old by the time, yet there was something, well, quaint about this debut. Cut and pasted by Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson, they had captured a slice of Americana nostalgia in those nine songs, and amassed a credible underground following.

Five years later and Koop Islands travels in reverse. They’ve decided to tinker with big bands, slicing grand horn sections with the occasional conga and a nicely melancholic touch of accordion. The album is entirely sample-based, adding to the splendid mystery of how much time they spent constructing an album of such depth. The songs themselves are not unexpected, nor are they necessarily remarkable. But they’re good, and they leave sonic imprints in the forms of hums and headnods much later in the day, when you think you heard one of their songs at the grocery store only to realize your mind was once again playing tricks on you. Another words, these songs are sublime, and stay with you. Someone is catching on – Atlantic picked this up for US distribution.

When they returned to New York for their first time in a half-decade to throw down at the Hiro Ballroom, I wasn’t expecting too much, which is good because expectations lead to disappoint and I left that night feeling anything but. While extremely vocal about their music being sample-driven, it translates amazingly well live. Zingmark and Simonsson were, for the most part, non-participants. Zingmark tinkled a few keys and picked up the accordion, while Simonsson pretended to play congas once, and mostly trigged samples. The band they brought, though – comprised of a ferocious drummer, an excellent trombonist and bassist, and a very vibrant xylophonist – showed what jazz could accomplish on its own terms.

The duo is smart: they’ve assembled a live band that can accentuate and build upon what they’ve created through samples. Hilde Louise Asbjornsen joined them on vocals, and added that lyrical dynamic sometimes needed to hold a crowd’s attention. While she certainly has a sweet voice, she overplayed the part of big band jazz singer. Her voice purposefully squeaked a bit too often; she could have been on stage half the time and made double the impact. When Mikael Sundin joined for two songs on guitar and vocals, it added a nice edge; his song on Koop Islands, “Let’s Elope,” is one of those future adult contemporary classics destined for Swedish weddings with teary-eyed bridesmaids and reminiscing seniors.

The band’s real integrity came through on a track from Waltz For Koop, however: “Relaxin’ at Club F****n.” Simonnson hit the space bar on the sample pad and let the repetitive, bouncing bass line rip. Drums, vibes and trombone tore into the beast. After five or six minutes, Simonnson hit the space bar again, and the beat dropped out. Then the real bassist tore into the line and the band emerged again, crossing over into that other world Koop has come to know and love. Zingmark continued to pound the ivory, and his partner stood positioned behind his Mac, awaiting a cue to click the mouse one more time.

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