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Restaurant music

Jānis Žilde

Taking the nostalgia train to Jurmala of the 60s

«FunCOOLio un Ruslan PX Play bossa-nova»(«Sex Records»/«Funcoolio Records»)

Even though the title of the album clearly accentuates the style of bossa-nova, which we tend to associate with such Brazilian artists as Antonia Carlos Jobim or Astrud Gilberto (Thank you for the music, Astrud!), it would be more accurate to call this vinyl recording, that has been released earlier this year, in April, «Jūrmala vibes» or «Back to Soviet Jūrmala.» Let me explain.

«Play bossa-nova» is a new cross-culture — Estonian and Latvian — a project by an Estonian guitarist Ruslan PX and a funk band from Riga, «FunCOOLio,» that consists of ten funky-bossa compositions named after the train stations in Jurmala town. The first one is Lielupe, and the last is Vaivari.

Musicians admit that their goal was to create a mood for the album that of nostalgia, a reminiscence of the 60s and the 70s when Jūrmala was a famous vacation destination in the USSR that gathered thousands of people to relax on the seaside. Mainly, these were Russian-speaking people. All the tune titles match the names of the stations and invite the listeners to partake in this train journey together with the music.

As a side note, it should be mentioned that all three baltic states, while in the USSR, were considered Soviet West. The fact that many residents had relatives living abroad allowed us to raise the average living conditions slightly higher than in a regular Soviet Union country. A number of the communist regime praisers used the Baltics as an example to demonstrate the achievements and advantages of this particular lifestyle. Train and airplane tickets were cheap, and Latvia became one of the destinations where visitors could acquire products that were otherwise absent in other soviet countries.

The album cover features a silhouette of a legend-ridden Jūrmala restaurant, «Jūras pērle.» Perhaps musicians themselves don’t consider the term «restaurant music» quite flattering, but while listening to this album, it is pretty easy to imagine that in the 70s, Jūrmala had exactly this kind of music playing as a soundtrack to the vocational activities — sunny and positive melodies with a healthy dose of soviet pop in it. Ruslan, one of the «acid jazz» genre pioneers in Estonia, admits that this is the sunniest and the brightest album he has ever recorded, even though it doesn’t go along with the main music trends on the world stage. Ruslan could be an Estonian Martinez Gonzalez; his band’s 1999 «PX Bandizdotas» funk music album is esthetically akin to one by Gonzos’ creative period in his band «Lolitas brīnumputns.» In the 2000s, Ruslan went further into the direction of indie and dub styles and released a serf music album with his project «Android Vasja.»

This Russian musician, based in Estonia, had known «FunCOOLio» boys for about 18 years; nevertheless, their first musical collaboration took place for the first time only recently, during the pandemic, when in 2020 he had suggested Rigan musicians participate in a recording of a composition for one of his albums. This musical experiment turned out quite well, and in the summer of 2021, Ruslan presented a new idea — to make another recording together, this time an entire album of original tunes in the style of Bossanova. Eight compositions in the album, which is the third for the band, are composed by Ruslan, but a ballad, «Asari,» was written by «FunCOOLio» bass guitarist Deniss Gradalevs and Ruslan PX; composition «Vaivari,» in turn, was composed by the band’s guitarist Georgijs Panfilovs. All of the arrangements for the tunes were done together by «FunCOOLio» and Ruslan. The recording was made during two sessions in winter 2021/2022, during the lockdown in the «Funcoolio Records» studio, when active concert life was prohibited. The recording also featured several special guests — a French saxophonist Fred Hormain (soprano, alto, and baritone saxophones) and saxophonist Anton Koga from Estonia (alto saxophone).

It is peculiar that one of the tunes features a balalaika — a Russian folk instrument that instantly becomes an additional sign of this nostalgic trip to Soviet Jūrmala. It turns out that the «FunCOOLio» guitarist has been a long-time balalaika player in the «Sadko» balalaika ensemble and has excellent knowledge and technique playing this instrument. This is perhaps the first time a balalaika has been used in Bosanova.

Of course, Bossanova isn’t a new genre for Latvia; it has been played before by various artists: Jolanta Gulbe has performed songs by Jobim songs in the «Kuba» project, which has released an album, «15 Episodes of Kuba,» where this and that from Brazilian music was cited. But «FunCOOLio» and Ruslan PX can be viewed as more of a kitsch, a soundtrack to some unfilmed USSR movie or a documentary about Jūrmala, about the regular working people and their holiday entertainment.

The goal is achieved if the musicians aimed to create a program to play at private or corporate events, where such music would fit best — between the clanking of glasses and casual small talk. If the goal was to follow the traditions of Bossanova, then this album lacks nuances, intricacies, and other small things Bossanova is made of. But also, looking at the Soviet times, one could state that there were also no intricacies.

Released on April 12, 2023.