Italian DJ/producer Nicola Conte's loungey brand of acid jazz relies extensively on bossa nova, but is also heavily influenced by the swinging soundtracks of Italian films in the '60s and '70s, plus touches of ethnic music and easy listening kitsch reminiscent of Japan's Pizzicato Five. Part of the loose-knit Fez collective of artsy acid jazz revivalists centered in the Italian town of Bari, Conte was a classically trained musician who instead moved into production and DJing, working with artists like the Paolo Achenza Trio, the Fez Combo, Balanco, Quintetto X, and the Intensive Jazz Sextet. Conte also masterminded the Schema label, which gave many of those artists a home and cultivated a trademark, distinctly Italian approach to acid jazz. As for his own recording career, Conte scored an underground hit with his first single, "Bossa Per Due," which appeared on a variety of compilations and was licensed in the U.S. for an Acura commercial. Conte's first album to be released in America was also titled Bossa Per Due, a slightly reconfigured version of the Italian Jet Sounds; it appeared on Thievery Corporation's ESL (Eighteenth Street Lounge) label in the summer of 2001. The remix album Jet Sounds Revisited followed in late 2002. Two years later, Conte bowed on Blue Note's French subsidiary with an assured jazz date, Other Directions. Quiet Stars and a slew of singles followed before Conte would return with Viagem, his curated selection of classic Brazilian recordings in 2008, followed four more volumes between 2009 and 2013. These were followed by a two-CD set of electronic recordings entitled The Modern Sound of Nicola Conte: Versions in Jazz Dub in early 2009.
That same year, Conte explored Latin jazz, Brazilian pop, and John Coltrane's early sense of experiments as inspirations for Rituals, an exotic, wide-ranging jazz album that featured five different vocalists. The use of singers was expanded to eight on 2011's Love & Revolution, an exercise in European pop, jazz balladry, and Eastern-tinged and modal jazz that included performances by Jose James, Gregory Porter, Melanie Charles, and Ghalia Benali, and was followed by the Brazilian-themed EP Sketches of Samba in 2013.
Conte forged ahead in his explorations, wedding deep modal and spiritual jazz to sophisticated pop. This resulted in Free Souls in the spring of 2014, an album that once again utilized vocalists -- including James and Charles -- and was comprised of expansive originals and standards, including tunes by Ahmad Jamal and Hoagy Carmichael. ~ Steve Huey