On their eponymous debut, the New York duo puts a mesmerizing stamp on carefully-chosen jazz standards, as well as captivating originals. Echo was born from NYC's live drum & bass scene. Askew initially discovered Nakamura playing trumpet and keyboards at the SoHo nightclub Shine's popular party "Prohibited Beatz". The rotating live line-up of DJs, MCs, and diverse musicians (including tabla virtuoso Karsh Kale and guitarist Vernon Reid, plus "real time audio deconstruction" by future Echo mix engineer Roli Mosimann) inspired Askew instantly, because it reminded her of one of her biggest influences: Miles Davis' late-'60s electric period (In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew).
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"At Shine I was seeing jazz re-emerging in a fresh way, because there's so much more technology to play with, and so many different directions you can go in, with drum and bass rhythms, and all the possibilities offered by electronics."
Askew and Nakamura began to collaborate. One afternoon at Askew's apartment, Nakamura played her a new track he'd been working on. "It was this great, bubbly rhythm," she recalls, and it inspired her to start singing the Cole Porter standard "I've Got You Under My Skin." The two seemingly disparate components fit hand-in-glove, and "within 20 minutes, we'd almost recorded the whole thing." By marrying the relaxed rhythmic undercurrents and cutting-edge production techniques with more-traditional songwriting, the pair had hit upon a unique direction for Echo.
Next, they set to crafting originals that would build upon the spirit of their initial, almost accidental, creation, new songs like the deceptively lazy "Sparks From A Wheel" and the drum & bass-flavored "Can't Walk Away." They'd begin with a groove, in a single key, on top of which they then wrote unconventional chord sequences. But after vocal melodies had been written based on these changes, the underlying chords were removed, leaving just the electronic textures, Nakamura's trumpet, and Askew's cool vocals as the central components.
One of the album's most affecting (and revealing) tracks is the moody, sensually rhythmic "Secret Self," inspired by Askew's long-standing love of Beat Generation authors like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac. In fact, the specific impetus, according to the singer, was listening to the excerpt "Jazz of the Beat Generation" from the CD "Jack Kerouac Reads On The Road".
"I was picking up on that freshness, that newness the Beats were feeling from jazz... because that's what I get from the electronic music I listen to. So I adapted some ideas from "The Beat Reader", and took a loop from my first album, Tender City, slowed it down, and wrote 'Secret Self.' In addition to writing, recording, and performing her own material, Joy Askew has enjoyed a successful career playing and singing alongside a variety of musicians, including Peter Gabriel, Joe Jackson, Laurie Anderson, and Rodney Crowell. A Lilith Fair alumnus, her previous solo releases include Tender City (1996), Gorgeous Creature (1997), When (1998), and The Same Desperado (2000).
Besides his current work with live drum and bass act Nerve and neo-soul outfit Organic Grooves, Takuya Nakamura has played with such jazz notables as flugelhorn great Clark Terry, drummer/arranger Bob Moses, and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.
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