When bebop hit the scene, critics and other unhepcats maligned the movement as inarticulate noise with little artistic merit. So it's only fitting that another clan of outsiders, dance-music DJs, should re-interpret the now-classic sounds of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Shirley Horne. Granted this project could have turned ugly (think Keoki throwing his ego all over Ella Fitzgerald), but Verve carefully handpicked a crew of well-rounded producers who kept the original essence of each track while bringing a fresh perspective to a catalog full of style and soul. Whether it's Joe Claussell laying a deep and funky bassline for Simone to purr "Feelin' Good" over or Thievery Corporation making the already dreamy "Who Needs Forever" by Astrud Gilberto even more ethereal, each song comes through with nary a misplaced scratch. Hearing Rae & Christian blast a pumping horn refrain through Dinah Washington's "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" makes one wonder why it took so long to pair DJs with jazz legends. The track remains a demand for love to come clean but now has a hip-shaking beat that takes the edge off and swings even more, daddy-o. Also among the dance highlights is "See-Line Woman," the Simone classic Masters at Work made into a club hit several years back. With layers of percussion kicking and clapping throughout, the stark tale of a prostitute's act gets an upbeat dress to twirl in.
But not all DJs are about dance-floor material; when Tricky gets the chance to spill his sonic gloom on Holiday's haunting version of "Strange Fruit," the brutal imagery of a Southern lynching becomes all the more exquisitely unnerving. The same holds true for UFO's soothing string arrangements on Sarah Vaughan's version of "Summertime," a track so finely mixed it practically emanates a mid-July warmth. The session closes with King Britt's spiritual sprinkling over Tony Scott's meditative "Hare Krishna," parting with Zen-like serenity. Anyone who has yet to be turned on by the DJ thing may want to give this mix a try. For years dance-music labels have been trying to find the perfect postclub vibe to chill out with. Astute music listeners will forgo the down-tempo attempt and stick with the originals brilliantly brought up to speed by a worthy cast.