Koop – Waltz For Koop

Nine golden moments

I’ve been wanting to write about this album for quite a while already. But I was missing something – mostly about what happened to Koop after their third album. They received tons of critical acclaim, had a great concept and contrary to a lot of projects of their time and genre they were even pretty good on stage. Still – things just came to an end. Every now and then I would search the web to find traces of them (and other artists that somehow vanished), mostly without much success.

When I was writing about a similar case – Tom Tyler – I spontaneously googled Koop again. And what do you know? The story didn’t really end. Oscar Simonsson, one of the two main figures behind this project, started a new project called the Koop Oscar Orchestra, and the name of it says it – it’s sort of a Koop revival. Simonsson added a blog section to the website and used it to write about the end of Koop – and even if he is not very clear about the reasons for the project to implode, we can guess what happened. Exhaustion after extensive touring, the demise of the music industry in the early to mid 2000s, and probably some sort of strain on the relationship between Simonsson and his partner Zingmark.

There’s an interesting comment in that blog post that refers to the work they had produced during those years, talking about “the first album that no one heard, over the second album that many heard but not so many understood, to the last album that came out at the completely wrong time.” He’s got a point there. Even Allmusic refers to “Waltz For Koop” as their “debut” when it clearly was their second album – it’s just that the first one really went shamefully unnoticed.

He is right about another point – this album is easy to misunderstand – simply because it is so easy to like. It is such a lovely album that you can overlook the high level of musicianship, the immaculate job they did on production and arrangement, and even the wide range of styles that Koop were embracing on these nine fine pieces.

To be more specific: you quickly fall for the sweet vocal charm of Yukimi Nakano and Cecilia Stalin who had been virtually unknown at the time, and almost overlook Dan Berglund on bass (okay, in real life that would have been completely impossible). When the album was launched he was already recognized as one of the best Jazz bass players on the planet.

Koop were quickly placed in the drawer with all those pleasant little studio projects that tried for fame by shooting for a slot on a Café Del Mar sampler, mixing Downtempo and Jazz, or Swing, or Bossa… there were plenty of them, most of them mediocre. Koop absolutely weren’t. Once I saw them live, it was in Montreux, a really excellent evening with several other acts, among them the Gotan Project – they were a similar case, only with a more restricted creative concept. Easily regarded as fast moving musical consumer goods, but really not deserving to be seen like that.

Just listen to the title track and the almost extreme sweetness of Cecilia Stalin’s voice – without the lush and elegant surrounding it would probably be way too much. I usually also find it hard to forgive anyone for throwing in a slick saxophone solo. Simonsson and Zingmark shamelessly do so on “Tonight” and it still is a lovely little song.

And just when you thought that you figured this album out as a pretty little thing with plenty of references to all the cool musical styles of the world, that’s when it switches gears effortlessly and takes a full dive into Jazz, paying homage to Jazz flautist Sahib Shihab, featuring very solid solo work by Magnus Lindgren. The end of side one is like a big attention sign telling us not to underestimate these guys.

The flip side fully delivers on the promise made at the end of the first one. Earl Zinger joins for “The Modal Mile” and it is just as cool as it gets. I am not really a huge Zinger fan, but on this one he is just the perfect fit. But that’s all still nothing compared to what is happening on “In A Heartbeat”. I remember the first time I heard this and how I was continuously scratching my head because it tingled like crazy. Still happens today. It was the first time someone rediscovered the magnificent voice of Terry Callier and just like Zinger on “The Modal Mile” this beautiful song sounds like it was made for him to shine as brightly as possible. When the song transitions from intro to utter bliss at 1:28 – what a moment. A few years later Koop had a pretty big hit with “Koop Islands Blues” – but this is their moment of greatness.

Again, just when you thought… Following this gem the album effortlessly turns towards something that would probably be best described as a mix of Jazz and Deep House. “Relaxin’ At Club F****n” would have been a wonderful addition to Bugge Wesseltoft’s 2001 album “Moving” – and if that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.

After taking us for a surprisingly eclectic ride the album closes where it began – a lovely voice and sweet memories of great times with friends at the bar. The way it sounds it would have been an elegant beach place but the track is dedicated to “the Uppsala ’93 Jazz posse”. They must have had a wonderful time there.

My vinyl copy of this album doesn’t look fresh anymore – for years it was in the bag I took to the bar to DJ, and it never just stayed there, in and out every time at least once, and I could have played every single one of these nine songs during any given night at Eddie’s place.

This is a wonderful album. And I hope that Oscar Simonsson is happier now than he was when Koop called it quits. It would be more than deserved.

Release for review:
KOOP – WALTZ FOR KOOP – JAZZANOVA COMPOST RECORDS – JCR 021-1

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