Sunday, May 22, 2011

74 Miles Away: Jazz and Future Beats

74 Miles Away - Self-Titled

Jazz and beats, a combination with an amazing amount of potential. Although not pushed to its fullest potential, experimental collaboration 74 Miles Away ambitiously explores this genre fusion. The self-titled release from this unexpected collaboration manages to literally ride the fence between the two genres it attempts to meld together. The release consists of four tracks performed by the Belgian Pierre Anckaert Trio and then the same four tracks reworked by Brussels producer duo Monkey Robot, featuring new vocal performances from Carina Andersson, Ahu Kelesoglu, and Miles Bonny. Although leaving itself widely more accessible to purist jazz fans and electronic dance hall goers independently, 74 Miles Away's choice to present these compositions independently may miss a great opportunity to merge these two disparate audiences.

Despite this segregated presentation, 74 Miles Away still manages to evoke some of the two genres' strongest elements while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of degrading what makes jazz and electronic production so enticing on their own. It is difficult at times to even compare the two sets of compositions as the Anckaert trio is the epitomy of organic instrumentation and then Monkey Robot is nearly the opposite with electronically produced textures and crispy machined beats. The thing that ties these two sets of tracks together is the spirit of progression which is ever-present in jazz and electronica. Although at times fully immersed in their own disciplines, they inevitably gravitate to the forward-thinking, future-funk elements that thrive in both environments.

The album does a good job of carrying the listener through the on-going transition from more traditional jazz compositions and improvisation, heard clearly on "Romeo and July" to more funky, groove based tracks like "Chromeface." The Anckaert trio is never quite as psychedelic and jammy as Herbie Hancock's 1973 Head Hunters, but it still pushes the envelope of the traditional jazz trio to the point that it makes for a smooth transition into the beat oriented remakes from Monkey Robot. You will hear the more synth-based grooves of Herbie Hancock's influence present immediately in the smooth, beat-laden "Finding A Place." Carina Andersson's vocal performance is a welcome change to the mix with her silky, chill hooks.

74 Miles Away begins to take is most dramatic turn in "So Amazing" where the wobbly bass reminiscent of a dubstep track dominates the composition. Luckily for those who have become bored with the uber-popular sub-genre, this track avoids the heaviness ever-present in today's bass music and opts for a more calculated and subtle execution which is highly successful. "Same Dream Again" beckons forth the ghost of J Dilla with its laid back hip-hop styled drums. The track features singer Ahu Kelesoglu, noted for her collaborations with Flying Lotus under the pseudonym "Dolly." It seems no coincidence that Ahu found her way on to this project as a singer known for her collaborations with one of the most successful producers to blend jazz with hip-hop and numerous electronic genres.

"Neverending Rhodes" closes the album on a high note with one of the most dancy beats dominated by the classic electro clap and a slappy, funked out bass line. The beat instantly induces you into a head-nodding trance while the inspired mono-synth solos keep the track's momentum rolling full steam ahead.

As you can probably tell by the content of this review, I favored the more electronic styles of Monkey Robot's tracks and I think 74 Miles Away will find a more engaged following amongst the club-going, bass music fanatics so prevalent in today's nightlife. But the affect of this genre-blending collaboration will most likely be difficult to clearly discern for many years, if not longer.

The Pierre Anckaert trio will without a doubt find eager ears within the modern jazz audience, and then, possibly, keep them entraced as the project transitions into the mixes of Monkey Robot. It is questionable if the electronic fans who so loyally absorb dubstep and bass music in general will have a mature enough palate to absorb the original compositions of Anckaert. Yet the exquisite blending of genres by these two groups is bound to create some cross-over between fan bases.

Perhaps it is naive to classify these two genres and their fan bases so exclusively. It is clear that the musicians of 74 Miles Away were able to easily bridge the gap between their two respective fortes, so it shouldn't be so far fetched to believe that the majority of listeners could do the same.

Be sure to check out 74 Miles Away for yourself below.

By clicking around a bit through the many sites that curate the 74 Miles Away project, I stumbled upon an extra treat. Here is a forthcoming track to be featured on a Laid Back Radio compilation. This is a live cover of Placebo's "Humpty Dumpty" featured at Melting Pot Music. This recording is the most successful realization of this project that I have heard so far in that it features both of the major composers' styles in one live performance. The self-title release previous to this recording does not feature Pierre and his trio performing or even actively collaborating with producer duo Monkey Robot. Although listening to this I still can hear a clear divide from one groups performance to the next, it is refreshing to hear them played as a single composition.

74 Miles Away - Seven Four (live at Stubru) by LaidBack


  1. Thank you Phil for the review. I totally agree with you and can tell you that Pierre anckaert and MonkeyRobot are currently working at blending their styles together.

    Here is another of their track that is available as free download >

  2. Thanks a lot for this nice review and this nice vision of our work!!