Jazz is alive and well, especially to the ears and mind of Jazz Singer Lucia Cadotsch. As she explains to us, the influence of jazz echoes through all the most interesting music—you just have to listen closely.
The Swiss-born, Berlin-based singer’s first album Speak Low pays homage to some of her favorite songs, and brings them into the present with fresh arrangements and a modern sensibility. With Otis Sandsjö on the tenor saxophone and Petter Eldh on the double bass, the trio were able to create complex and unique renditions of the original tracks. Take for example, the album’s opening track ‘Slow, Hot Wind’, that magnifies the dreamy, hotel lobby on Quaaludes feel of the Mancini classic. The track ends with a loop of Otis arpeggiating, coupled with Lucia’s spectral cooing and a nimble double bassline that feels more reminiscent of electronic music than of jazz.
The group describes their album as a foray into “acoustic retro-futurism,” which seems about as apt a description as one could arrive at when listening to their music. Lucia took this concept a bit further when she asked friends to remix each track of Speak Low, creating a new release titled Speak Low Renditions.
With one foot in jazz’s past, another somewhere out in space, we asked Lucia to create two playlists for us: one showcasing her influences from the history of jazz and another from contemporary artists, and spoke about where she fits into the picture.
Some of Lucia's favorite records
Showing off a selection from her vinyl collection
Let’s begin with your background in jazz. Who are your favorites?
I have this raw connection to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Other singers are great but I don’t feel them emotionally. I have these sisters out there that I just understand on a deeper level. That’s the whole concept with Speak Low. Because with some people you don’t have to explain much—there’s just a great connection between us. They can be dead or still alive. But when I put on a Billie Holiday record she’s still alive in that moment because that moment is on that record. Her emotions are conserved on a record and it’s transported through time to now and I can feel her in a moment that is so long gone.
Was it tough trying to create new moments with their songs on your record?
I always wanted to do something with these songs. Some of them have been accompanying me since I was 13 or 14. I would play them in private but it took me a long time to really find my own version because the original recordings are so strong. What can you do with those songs that aren’t just bad copies? It took a while to find the right musicians and approach to the tunes that felt original for me and said something in our time. While composing we listened to the original versions of the songs and would “live-sample” them on our instruments. We would make one bar improvisations out of a part in, say, Nina Simone live in London and took that as the inspiration for our version.
The jazz classics that inspire Lucia
And as far as your contemporary inspiration goes, there’s a lot of hip-hop on the playlist.
Hip-hop is, in a way, the continuation of jazz. The spirit of jazz is sometimes more alive in hip-hop than in contemporary jazz. There’s just a misunderstanding of jazz nowadays. There’s so much commercial shit that doesn’t have spirit—it’s just museum jazz. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is fucking jazz! There is this freedom and form. I was so happy that something like that could get so popular. I thought, finally, people want to hear something fresh! Pop music is just repeating itself a lot and To Pimp a Butterfly gave me so much courage that people want this back. It’s very progressive music to me—and this is what jazz is about as well.
…and Death Grips?
Death Grips is totally jazz as well! It’s avant garde beat music! My bandmate Petter says that jazz is the main ingredient in everything that is interesting. That’s why I think there’s jazz in everyone from Death Grips and Mos Def, to Kendrick Lamar.
Compared to the frenzied drums of Zach Hill in Death Grips or the big-budget productions on Kendrick’s album, you took a decidedly minimal approach with your release.
Yeah, it’s just bass, tenor saxophone and voice. No effects, nothing. It’s all acoustic instruments and there’s so much there already. There is a movement toward improvised music—in Berghain there are even DJs doing totally improvised sets with modular synthesizers where they don’t have control over everything. We had a long period of slicking up everything, and wanted ourselves to appear perfect but maybe that’s not so interesting! There is so much imperfection in the old records and that’s just so emotional in the end. You feel there is a human behind the music.
A mix of contemporary tunes that Lucia digs on
And how did Speak Low Renditions come about?
The idea with this record was to give our recordings to our friends and see what they would do with our music. It’s such a beautiful thing because I only asked people who I really admire and they happened to be people I’ve worked with or are my friends. It’s so nice to have them all together on one record! Some tunes are very far away from one another, but the order helps them have more of a connection.
And it’s released on cassette? Interesting choice for a format.
Yes! It’s cool because it awakens all these memories from back in the days! When you made a mixtape for your friend it was really something precious. You’d sit down and record the radio to get the songs. Now, everything is so available. That’s why I love this tape so much—music has lost its worth a bit now that we have such easy access to it. You can get any song immediately! You would spend whole afternoons in a record store just listening to music.
Thank you Lucia, for speaking with us and sharing your record collection and your musical influences.
If you’d like to own some of Lucia’s music (if you’re lucky you can still snag a copy of Speak Low Renditions on cassette), check out her Bandcamp page. If you’re in Berlin she’ll be performing the renditions with all of her collaborators at Berghain on the 26th of May. Pick up your tickets here.
Also be sure to check out the rest of the FvF Mixtapes here for more tunes.