Yellow Fever!

AY 011CD AY 011CD

This is the latest installment in the vaunted legacy of Señor Coconut (Atom Heart, Uwe Schmidt), the world's only German/Chilean "electrolatino" interpreter of pop standards. This time out, Coconut -- famous for his laptop-mambo and acid-merengue covers of Kraftwerk, Sade and Michael Jackson -- is back with a proper Latin big band, fronted by the inimitable Venezuelan singer Argenis Brito, to pay homage to Kraftwerk's Eastern counterparts in the annals of techno-pop pioneers, Yellow Magic Orchestra. Making the orchestra that much more magical, all three of YMO's members -- Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, and Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto -- make guest appearances on the album. And rounding out the barmy, mixed-up social club, the album features a host of distinguished collaborators from all corners of the electronic-music world -- including Towa Tei, Burnt Friedman, Mouse On Mars, Akufen, Schneider TM and Nouvelle Vague's Marina -- in a series of playful, cryptic interludes that aim to crack open, once and for all, the mystery of Señor Coconut. Active from 1978 to 1983, YMO was, in many ways, Japan's answer to Kraftwerk, exploring the ways that pop songcraft could be rewired for a new era of circuitry. What distinguished them in their early years from their button-pushing, synthpop contemporaries around the globe was their intense, questing musicality -- YMO shrunk entire musical worlds to fit their motherboards. Depending on the selection, in YMO you can hear disco, jazz, funk, balladry, show tunes? You get the idea. "Yellow Magic" features a piano solo ripped straight from the Afro-Cuban tradition; "Pure Jam" sounds like a breakdancer's remake of Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles. It probably goes without saying that the same "globalizing" questions Schmidt explored in his Kraftwerk versions were in many ways already answered in YMO's own recordings, which combined Japanese technological advances with Japanese worldly curiosity, filtered through that country's geographical and cultural distance from the West. Is it any surprise, then, that in listening to Señor Coconut's mambofied versions, and then going back to the originals, it turns out that there was a sultry Latin streak running through YMO's chips all along? YMO's relentless sonic inquisitiveness -- which led all three members on to distinguished solo careers and powerhouse collaborations in pop, neo-classical, experimental music and soundtracks -- provides ample material for Schmidt and his collaborators. Once again, Coconut has convened a talented ensemble of Latin jazz players on vibraphone, marimba, double bass, horns and percussion, and Argenis Brito is back on the mic, crooning as only he can.