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World Music Features

Zuco 103

By Derek Beres
Published January 30, 2006

Be it Western country in a digital world, spiced samba or downtempo house, Zuco 103 are purveyors of the new global sound. Not, as many would wish to say, “multicultural,” but rather of a limitless culture.

You have to love the way jazz has morphed over the past century. A direct descendant of blues music—the daughter of gospel and slave songs (see LeRoi Jones’s, aka Amiri Baraka, incredible Blues People for the full story)—jazz has been prohibited, scandalized, tamed, accepted and finally intellectualized and confined by purists. Yet something within its inherent nature defies imprisonment, and its infusion within genres like hip-hop and electronica over the past two decades has breathed new life into the perpetually indefinable genre.

          To the classic mind, two conflicting images of jazz often appear: a lowly, dark music about breakups, alcoholism and social woes laden with deep basslines and deeper vocals, alongside the airy vision of swing, big brass-sounding funk filled with lyrics of love, alcoholism and social goodwill. Zuco 103 embodies both of these.

          Not that their upbeat rhythms ever touch the scandalous depths Billie Holiday graced, nor would Duke Ellington ever come to mind. The culturally diverse trio—featuring members from Germany, Amsterdam and Brazil—hang out in the middle, never disparate, always a lot of fun. Credit the masterful craftsmanship of drummer Stefan Kruger and keyboardist Stefan Schmid for laying the landscape vocalist Lilian Vieira so tastefully waltzes over.

          You’ll be tempted to site Macy Gray minus the marijuana-smoked didactics, or Jazzanova with more acoustic dynamics. That’s about as close as we can come until you’ve checked out Tales Of High Fever, their second release on Six Degrees Records. Once you hear it, you’ll just want to listen again and again.

          “When you produce a record, you have to know who the audience is—whether they’re doing the dishes, or reading the newspaper, or just listening and hanging around, or dancing in the club,” says Kruger, on the final days of the band’s recent American tour. “We produced this album just to be at home.”

          Texturally rich, jazzily-educated-yet-accessible, one can imagine Kruger’s Dutch domicile as quite adventurous. Tales Of High Fever is a dance record first and foremost; it’s simply too catchy not to be. But he’s right in that it translates well on home speakers, the perfect remedy after a long day at the office or bopping to the tropical buoyancy on the open highway.