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The New Cool: Finding jazz inspiration in the music library

Instrumental scene setters and mood music — the next generation.
ATA Records album cover, Neil Innes and Pete Williams
Instrumental scene setters and mood music — the next generation.";

Originally created for commercial use, hidden gems in music libraries have inspired a new generation of musicians producing their own versions of these odd but ubiquitous musical interludes. Among them are the Englishmen of ATA Records, and you’ll hear their new-but-retro creation Saturday on The New Cool.

Sometimes called “production music”, library music is intended for use in film, television, radio and other media for background. These libraries of incidental theme music are completely owned by the publishers, done on a work for hire basis by so-called “studio musicians”.

Though the song titles or performers are mostly unknown, these songs can become part of our cultural landscape. Television football themes, educational film music, commercial jingles, classic film score material and even drive-in movie promos are recognizable to generations.

Library music’s recent revival has focused largely on European companies like England’s KPM, Bruton Music, DeWolfe and others, and the groovy '60s beat and early electronica they produced.

Often played by anonymous but expert musicians, legendary film composer Ennio Morricone made library music, too. Classic library cues have found new life in films by Quentin Tarantino and others, and hip-hop producers find rare breakbeat gems to sample.

Some modern musicians are following in the footsteps of these little-known musical icons. Multi-instrumentalist and composer Shawn Lee has released several albums directly influenced by library music, and he recently produced a fascinating documentary on the subject.

Which brings us to the new library music-inspired album from Neil Innes and Pete Williams, label heads who are also now recording as ATA Records. Their new album, The Library Archives Vol. 1, is their distillation of the funky, atmospheric and — as they say — “downright weird output” of these libraries.

From the unique sound of the vibraslap to echoes of '60s monster movies, this ATA Records collection has everything a library fan could want. Titles like “Midnight Heist” and “Wiretap” evoke funky '70s police action. “Siren’s Sea” brings an acoustic, vocal interlude of retro romance. The funky beat of “Duck Strut” may remind you of Quincy Jones’ film score output.

The album’s lead song, “Whack, Slap & Blow” (for the actions of the musicians, naturally) comes on like Gangbusters with punchy horns that brings to mind the vintage coming attractions theme, “Funky Fanfare.” Drummers establish a cool Latin rhythm, with soulful Hammond organ supporting a groovy theme not so different from the modern jazz of West Coast boogaloo masters The Greyboy Allstars.

Tension builds and releases, there’s a sample-bait drum break for DJs, and the triumphant repeating theme perfect for strutting down the street looking for bad guys or just a good time.

The album is credited to ATA Records, not the musicians. Innes and Williams probably want as much personal attention as the nearly forgotten musicians who made this unforgettable music. The music is the point, after all.

You’ll surely hear my copy of The Library Archives Vol. 1 at my next opportunity to DJ for a live audience — patience, my friends. ATA Records has been building this collection piece by piece over a few years and show no signs of slowing down, but the road to match KPM’s 700 albums (and still growing!) is a long one. Join us on The New Cool for a few steps of that journey Saturday on KNKX.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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