Need a soundtrack for a classy night in? Look no further than this selection of European jazz and soul, handpicked for your listening pleasure. Just slip on that little black dress or suit and tie, a good bottle of aged wine to go with that delectable homemade dinner, and you’re set for an elegant night at home.
1. Gare du Nord (Belgium) – “Marvin & Miles”
This Dutch-Belgian duo started off writing lounge music, until signing a deal in 2001 with an independent record label in Brussels. Since then, several of their tracks have been used in movie soundtracks and now have a multitude of albums released. “Marvin & Miles” is the first track off their 2007 album Sex’N’Jazz. Inca, the lead vocalist, opens the song with soulful humming to the tune of hypnotic percussions. Inca’s voice is as smooth as it is enticing, the perfect embodiment of a lounge singer. In true fashion of a sensual jazz songstress, Inca sings about the pleasure and fickleness of music. While it doesn’t offer anything new into the forays of jazz, this is a solid track to listen to when you want to relax with a glass of wine and a platter of cheese.
2. Caro Emerald (The Netherlands) – “That Man”
Amsterdam native, Caro Emerald, almost chanced upon her success. As a trained jazz vocalist from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (Amsterdam Conservatory), it took several years upon her graduation for her to finally hit her stride when producers, David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen, asked her to do vocals for a track called “Back It Up” that was a mix of jazz and pop. Not only did she find her musical niche, but the track also launched Emerald on the road to stardom that led to the release of her debut album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor in 2010. It immediately reached #1 on the Dutch album charts, lasting 30 weeks at the top spot, beating out the previous record holder from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The album was soon certified platinum in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe including Germany, Poland and Austria.
“That Man” is the first track and the third single off of Emerald’s debut album. Opening with a foot-tapping piano and drum line followed by Emerald’s smokey vocals, this track will get you off your feet and start swing dancing. With the modern addition of scratching techniques complemented by Emerald’s scatting and improvisations, “That Man” will make you grab your dancing shoes and Charleston the night away.
3. Wouter Hamel (The Netherlands) – “Sir Henry”
Garnering much attention since winning the 2005 Dutch Jazz Vocal Competition, Wouter Hamel has since released three studio albums starting in 2007. His debut album, Hamel, received critical acclaim for Hamel’s songwriting skills and the album’s jazz influences. He has supported Caro Emerald on her Germany tour. His albums have been released around Europe and have now broken the Asian market in South Korea and Japan.
“Sir Henry” is off of his 2009 sophomore album, Nobody’s Tune. Hamel’s easy vocals are highlighted by the interesting additions of marimbas, which somehow compliment the jazz styling of the track. Though this track does not display Hamel’s full range, it does showcase his vocal control and it’s another lovely track to unwind to, along with more glasses of wine.
4. Duffy (UK) – “Warwick Avenue”
You have probably already heard of Welsh singer, Duffy, because of her hit single, “Mercy” off her 2008 debut album, Rockferry. “Mercy” skyrocketed to #1 in the UK, breaking Bonnie Tyler’s record of being the first Welsh woman to have a #1 single on the UK charts. Duffy, whose full name is Amie Ann Duffy, won several accolades for Rockferry including a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album and a 2009 BRIT Award for British Female Artist, British Album and Breakthrough Act. In what is known as an essential “blue eyed soul” album, Rockferry was written by Duffy with the help of writers like Steve Booker and Jimmy Hogarth who have previously worked with and written for Natalie Imbruglia and Amy Winehouse, respectively.
“Warwick Avenue” is the third single from Rockferry. The track showcases Duffy’s vocal range and control. Singing about heartbreak in perfect soul fashion and backed by a full orchestra, Duffy’s voice soars above the violins when she realizes all she wants is to be free from the heartache caused by this old lover. Need to get over a breakup? Let Duffy serenade you with the promise of freedom from heartbreak.
5. Amy Winehouse (UK) – “Me & Mr. Jones”
Since she really doesn’t need an introduction, we’ll get right to the track. “Me & Mr. Jones”, the third track off her 2008 album, Back to Black, was written by Winehouse and produced by Salaam Remi, known for his work with The Fugees and Nas. Winehouse’s voice shines on this track, as her souful voice complements the melancholic lyrics about an inconsistent lover. The instrumentals stick to the background so that Winehouse’s vocals take the lead. It’s one of my favorite tracks and one that I think best represents Winehouse’s vocal ability. There aren’t enough words in any language to express my love for this song. If you dig soul music, you should listen to the entirety of Back to Black to fully comprehend what a fantastic singer Winehouse was.
By Teta Alim