The inaugural Blue Note Re:imagined was as welcome as a compilation could be in the post-We Out Here age of well-foraged jazzlands; South London was a ground of such ceaselessly ostensive acclaim, new standards and improbable knockouts that it was only a matter of time until the music industry’s old guard chomped at the bit. But even the greatest cynic couldn’t deny that the label’s letterheads suited the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia – innovators whose compulsion and prolificacy spoke to a new age of artistry just as free jazz did at the birth of Impulse! Records. Re:imagined was more than a languid market grab or middle finger to Gilles Peterson’s bank account; it was a moment that the conversation became elevated from the insoluble tag of ‘up-and-coming’ to a sincere recognition of new modern jazz greatness. But good things end.
Other than a few standout moments on Re:imagined II, the genesis of the compilation’s franchising is an instant dilution of everything that worked before. The curation is stretched, the players less a part of a palpable and bubbling scene, the invisible hand of boardroom executives more discernible. Genuine musical intrigue and interpretation goes side-to-side with your local café’s afternoon playlist one too many times for Re:imagined II to hold weight. Take the unconditional highlight in Theon Cross’ tuba rendition of Thelonious Monk’s bebop standard ‘Epistrophy’: an eerie jurisdiction lugs through Monk’s atonal brassy knots whilst both author and improvisor can be distinguished with alacrity. But by this point, we’ve just had two twee covers of Norah Jones, and now it’s time for a cover of a cover of ‘Harvest Moon’.
By: Nick Tzara