Jazz may seem like a musical element tied solely to the past. Partly because it began in the late 19th century and was played on instruments like the trombone and double bass which we now only see frequently in orchestras. Jazz was played in dive bars in New Orleans many years ago and the idea that it should remain there is shared by a great deal of people who didn’t get onboard with its sound. Today music sounds a lot different, the bands that play in bars don’t often come with someone on a brass instrument and the most popular music is primarily electronic – so where is jazz now? Just like all genres, this iconic improvisational sound has adapted and shifted into modern music thanks to the help of several contemporary musicians who are using the practices and techniques of jazz to invent new more modern sounds. Typically called nu-jazz these recent iterations of the sound can encompass more than just one genre and sound very different to what purist jazz lovers would expect to hear. Here are just four of today’s nu-jazz pioneers worth listening to.
Hailing from Norway, this ten-piece band clearly has jazz in the front of their minds if their name wasn’t already a huge indication. Working through their back catalogue you will find some unquestionable jazz elements here including the instruments used. On top of this the drum breaks and high speed rhythms here all sound very familiar, with a little something new glazed over the top. Adding modernity through electronic sounds such as the odd synth that jumps into the mix or the transition into wild DJ scratches on ‘Animal Chin’, these guys are not in the business of watering down the jazz sound.
You may slip into the idea that this trio create soft orchestral sounds thanks to the rousing piano that fills many of their tracks, but wait long enough and the spitty drums and jumpy bass will enter to quickly change the energy here. The boys from Manchester here have created a rich and emotional sound that ranges from chill out to upbeat jazz funk. With borderline acid drum and bass and the roomy reverb keys, Gogo Penguin have an intense aura ideal for indie movie soundtracks.
Naming himself and many of his tracks after elements of the past that bring nostalgia, it makes sense that this bassist carries with him a sound that also has history. With genre bending bass sounds that you can barely believe are performed on a guitar, Thundercat brings the chaotic pace and expert off-timing of bebop into the 21st century, collaborating with countless other musicians he has created albums so musically confounding they can only be described as jazz
Here we have a DJ dance duo that on first appearances have all the trappings of conventional dance, pounding constant drums, rising fills, female vocal samples and repetitive melodies. But underneath all of this is something a little different, listen long enough and you will hear pianos rise, counter rhythms commence and the unquestionably irregular element – the saxophone. Unlike most dance tracks, here the hook is often a blazing saxophone solo with blues samples and playful piano thrown in for good measure. Certainly not the ‘jazziest’ of the collection but they are a great example of just how far the genres influence has spread.