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Take Away Blue

Patrick Watson covers ‘Summertime’ with a string quartet, Moses Sumney improvises a cappella on the streets of New York City, Alex Zhang Hungtai jams in a Lisboan cellar and Mondkopf weaves a poisonous piece from ‘Turning Point’ at a campground. We decided to pay homage to the Blue Note label. Here’s the result.

Is jazz soluble?

The question isn’t even about in what it’s soluble. It’s just about knowing if we could try to offer it up to interpretation, to take melodies from it and then cross them with seemingly permeable genres.

When the Blue Note label contacted us, when we imagined for the first time the possibility of label standards covered by contemporary, “non-jazz” artists, we were immediately excited. Then, very soon after, perplexed and a little worried. The artists we were going to contact – would they have trouble finding inspiration in the songs? Would they succeed in adapting the songs? How could they not be paralyzed by these classics, how could they avoid making a joke of them? How do we interest a listener who is less familiar with these standards without losing purists’ approval? Basically, this genre, which made the malleability of its pieces one of its first principles… is it malleable itself? To what extent?

The solution came very simply. We just needed to not doubt it. We needed to have faith in the classics’ standards, to find their universality in the intimate resonance they have in every artist. Drunken nights spent listening to old albums, scats improvised in the streets like a reminder of the misguided ways of a painful past, an underground jam to bid farewell to musician friends… Talk of Coltrane, Bechet, Art Blakey, Ella Fitzgerald and Lonnie Smith. Seeking out the beauty of a piece or repeating, exhausting its motif in intoxicating, anxious loops.

This is all what Colin Solal Cardo collected when he went to visit these artists, leaving them to embellish their own memories of the classics, on the traces left by those before them. Patrick Watson covered Sidney Bechet’s Summertime, offering up new arrangements in his Montreal studio. Moses Sumney roamed NYC streets humming the melody of Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’. Alex Zang Hungtai (formerly known as Dirty Beaches) made a furious version of Coltrane’s Blue Train in Lisbon with his friend David Maranha and Gabriel Ferrandini.

Finally we have Mondkopf, who used Turning Point as a jumping-off point for a long, epic, harrowing piece that he played for us under the trees. It was a September morning at the Heart of Glass, Heart of Gold festival in a vacation camp in Ardèche. The night before, his set had been canceled due to a torrential downpour that ruined the site. It was nearly noon and it was beautiful out; there was little more to hear than the sounds of the birds. We invited festivalgoers to join us around a regular’s mobile home. On the porch, Paul and Greg played their cover. It was strong. Everyone stayed stunned, hypnotized. The original song was maybe a bit far, drowned underneath crackling layers. But it was in this moment – under the trees and the sun, drowning in this dark yet exciting music – that we realized: whatever the genre, this music is a living material. And we were making a film unlike any other.

Translated by Lauren McCracken