"A masterful work"
Review of Spacetime Continuum's "Double Fine Zone"
Does "Double Fine Zone" warn of an expensive traffic penalty, or does it describe an ultra-modern free-spirited nightclub, where classifications such as jazz, techno, and ambient don't matter? Jonah Sharp gives both suggestions a whirl on this new album, with diverse genre-crossing tracks sporting driver-friendly titles. "Double Fine Zone" is Spacetime Continuum's 1999 release on the Astralwerks label; the followup long-player to 1996's "Emit Ecaps".
Complementing a catalog that caters diverse environments from a star-gazer's secluded hilltop to sweat-drenched dance floors, "Double Fine Zone" meshes a funky jazz sensibility into a techno context. Perhaps imagined for a smoky, low-lit nightclub with couches and a laser light show, "Double Fine Zone" puts a much-needed new face on experimental electronic music and gives the music industry's uncreative something to imitate.
Sharp deserves recognition for his unfaltering experimentalism. Working in an industry that is increasingly concerned with commercial success, Sharp is committed to exploring new, unproven ground. "If I wanted to make the Top 40 playlist," he mentioned in an interview, "I wouldn't be making this type of music in the first place." [SF Weekly, May 5-11 1999, pg. 39]
Throughout the eleven tracks on this album, amazing percussion arrangements are to be found -- a staple of the Spacetime sound. Jonah's previous gig as a drummer for a number of London-based jazz outfits has served him well in his electronic music production. As Jonah has become unsatisfied with programming 8 or 16 quantized bars into a drum machine that repeats forever, listeners of this album are treated to live drum kit percussion fed through effects processors. Endless variations on the fundamental percussion sounds are the result of Jonah's daring tweaks and studio gear mastery.
This album features high-quality mastering which surpasses the work of "Emit Ecaps," as far as the mixing board is concerned. Play this recording on a sound system with good bass response in order to take advantage of the exciting things happening at the low end.
Starting the album off, "The Ring" opens with an aural atmosphere reminiscent of Sea Biscuit's softer moments -- with the addition of a saxophone. Imagine the jazz head-nodders chilling amongst the ambient dreamers and the dancefloor devotees. A commanding saxophone guides a finely processed rhythm section and smooth synth pads through this opening track.
"Microjam," taken from 1998's "Realtime" ep, is a slightly modified version of its former self. While percussion has been enhanced, the clever bass line has been undercut by the new arrangement. The clever beat-hiding bass intro arrangement of 1998's techno-oriented version is now locked in by the pre-determined drum kicks. Perhaps some of the techno edge has been lost, but these changes favor a cleaner jazz arrangement more in tune with the "Double Fine Zone" concept.
"Biscuit Face" opens with a clear nod to the Detroit techno scene. A complex rhythm structure is pulled off with class. After establishing a dominating dance mood, the song cools off a bit at 2:44 just long enough for breath catching. An extensive jazz-styled drum section utilizes a Max Roach-influenced ride cymbal arrangement. The song's remaining synth components diverge at 5:44 in typical Spacetime style, as if to say, "I *am* an electronic musician, you know."
Without a doubt, "Spin Out" is the climax of this album. The song starts with a saxophone riff, then quickly incorporates intense dance rhythms and space-shaping pads. Featuring a Fender Rhodes, this track finds jazz improvisation and dance techno meeting agreeably. Building on top of deep ambient-styled synth pads, intricate percussion arrangement, and intelligent bass lines, "Spin Out" helps prove a popular electronic music adage that "every single sound is important." At 3:18, the Rhodes injects serious funk into this masterful track. This is the song most listeners will remember, long after the music is over.
"Double Fine Zone," an appropriate soundtrack for multiple settings, stands on its own as an important electronic music statement. Perhaps not as final in its musical convictions as previous Spacetime efforts, this recording captures the tension of a live, improvised jazz act. Not to be ignored by electronic music fans, this album is an effective snapshot in time of Jonah Sharp's uncompromising experimental ethic.
Electronic music: this could be your future.