Still seeking new European jazz directions
Nicola Conte plays a retro yet modern music blending bossa nova, hard bop and dance club sounds
Posted: October 23, 2013
Nicola Conte takes his fashion and music cues from the 1950s and '60s.
Jazz comes in many shapes and sounds, and Nicola Conte has been working on his version for more than a decade. Conte came onto the European nu jazz scene in grand style with his 2001 album Jet Sounds on Schema Records. As a DJ producer, Conte had written and produced all of the songs for this now classic electro-jazz effort.
Always sharply dressed, like his 1950s and '60s era jazz heroes, Conte changed tack when his 2004 Blue Note album Other Directions came out. He put away the electronics and turntables in favor of a standard jazz group arrangement for a cheeriness and elegance not usual in contemporary jazz. In other words, it really swings.
When: Oct. 31 at 7:30
Where: Palác Akropolis
Tickets: 520 Kč in advance, 620 Kč at the door
For this album, Conte returned to playing guitar and took music theory lessons in preparation for the recording. He wrote the music to all of the songs on Other Direction and he brought together an impressive collection of Italians with a young German, Till Bronner, on trumpet and vocals, sounding like Chet Baker on the opening track, "Sea and Sand." Other stand-out guest vocalists on this recording include Bembe Segue, Lisa Bassenge and Lucia Minetti, Christina Zavalloni.
Skipping ahead, his 2011 studio release Love & Revolution on Puglia Sounds/Universal is a further refinement of his part retro yet still modern sound, influenced by the 1950s and '60s European and Hollywood soundtracks as well as hard bop and bossa nova. Conte also has an ear for the dance club, so some of his songs can also be jazz-club dance-floor stompers besides his older-fashioned ballads or romantic jazz-pop.
On this, his most recent studio recording, the main guest vocalist is Gregory Porter, who is being hailed as the newest voice of American jazz, with his Nat King Cole meets gospel fire delivery. Vocalist José James, who appeared on Conte's 2008 album Rituals, is back as well. This may be the only contemporary jazz recording featuring Porter and James, both New Yorkers, and rivals as rising-stars in the revival of jazz male vocalists on the American scene.
Band-wise, Conte brings in more classy nu-jazz Finnish musicians, mostly from the late-great Helsinki group Five Corners Quintet, to play along with the Italians. This time, there is one cover song and it is a standout: Jackie Mclean's "Ghana" featuring Gregory Porter on vocals. This one is a re-take of the song "Appointment in Ghana" by a central figure of the Blue Note label's heyday, alto-saxophonist Jackie Mclean.
By including this song, Conte gracefully nods to his primary influence, the classic Blue Note slow-groove and swinging hard-bop assault of Horace Silver, Gene Harris, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd and Bobby Hutchinson. Then Conte also has the hard thumping electro-beats alongside congos and other percussion players on occasion, and this combination of the old (though vintage) and the new finally makes Conte worth following.
Tony Ozuna can be reached at