Berlin Serengetti, the debut fill-length from producer and multi-instrumentalist Niko Schabel and a host of talented musicians, is an undeniably skillful and intelligent record that intricately combines elements of classic free jazz with modern recording techniques. Comparable to the basement jazz of Mulatu or the dense layers of sound being made by the likes of Cinematic Orchestra or Four Tet, Radio Citizen's music also bares similarities to the early Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird collaborations where a beautiful voice with an unidentifiable edge (in this case, vocalist Bajika) is made more mysterious by the soundscapes contrasted behind it.
Schabel plays with all forms of rhythm -- jazz, hip-hop, dub, down-tempo -- with air-tight drum programming and waves of rolling percussion executed to perfection, often making it hard to determine what was played live and what was sampled or played live first then manipulated later. Horns, flutes, Rhodes, guitar, clarinet and harder to identify instruments all become part of the record's orchestral atmosphere.
Berlin seeps through in some of the darker compositions, but more often it's difficult to pin this record to any one place because of range of sounds. Africa, Japan and France are all brought to mind, although never America. I imagine that this is a record that couldn't be made in this country, and that exotic aura is part of its appeal.
Amid some of the record's more difficult moments, Schabel throws in a pair of slow burners ("The Hop," "Everything") that would sound right at home in a late night session at New York City's Nu Blu or other candle-lit, more intimate dance floors.
Still, the tracks are disparate, making for an uneven playlist when listening from start to finish. But all of these songs share a high level of quality and complexity that demands listeners to find new things with each listen. For fans of new-millennium jazz and thinking-man's electronica, Berlin Serengetti should come as an exciting breath of fresh, fall air.
***"The Hop" MP3