I’ve been interested lately in music that exists on the outskirts of jazz, especially where accomplished musicians attempt to bring jazz ideas to music that is decidedly not jazz, or attempt to bring outside elements into a traditional jazz setting. While fusion is nothing new, for the most part it has been limited to jazz-rock or jazz-funk, and that idea started over 40 years ago. With the explosion in new and interesting styles in the decades since, jazz players have been slow to adopt the ideas of hip-hop, techno and other more modern (and often electronic) styles. Here are a few groups that can show them the way.
Nerve- The Distance Between Zero and One
Drummer JoJo Mayer is an astounding technician. While he’s firmly planted in his “live electronica” project now, he cut his teeth with Monty Alexander and also had stints backing up Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone. Those jazz roots come through in Nerve’s music, which pushes both the boundaries of what can physically be played on a drum kit but also the ideas of Jungle, Drum n’ Bass and other electronica. Mayer gave an interesting TED Talk on the ideas behind his playing. I think the idea of trying to add a human element to electronic music is interesting, and Mayer and Nerve’s ability to pull it off certainly gives me some hope for the future.
Galactic- Carnivale Electricos
Whereas Nerve are taking very modern music and applying older techniques, Carnivale Electricos finds Galactic taking old music and applying new ideas to it, bringing classic New Orleans party music to the new millennium. Their last few records (beginning with From The Corner To the Block) have seen the band growing in leaps and bounds from the jam/funk outfit they began as. The new direction mostly works, and I think this record shows some improvement over Ya-Ka-May, which almost seemed apologetic in the way it addressed the classic New Orleans style.
You didn’t really think I could avoid talking about these guys, did you?
Jaco Pastorius famously said “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up”. Well, for all of BBNG’s bragging, there ain’t much backing it up. This album of hip-hop beats and bad synth patches is interesting enough, and it definitely grooves, but it feels more like a demo than an album. The “songs” aren’t fully realized, just sketches, and they run through some pretty trite changes. Anyone who has jammed with friends in someone’s basement in high school will recognize the tempo and beat shifts. There is some good playing, but nothing ground breaking. I guess I see why they run their mouths as much as they do- it’s the only way anyone will listen to them.