When discussing the use of electronic instruments in Jazz music you often end up talking about hammonds and electric guitars, but that’s a very narrow definition ruling out most of the evolution made in Jazz music over the past decades. NuJazz is such a sub genre within Jazz that really brings all the ingredients from Jazz and techno to house and experimental electronic music. Nu jazz, also known as jazztronica, the term was coined in the late 1990s to refer to music that blends jazz elements with other musical styles, such as funk, soul, electronic dance music, and free improvisation.
Frenchman Ludovic Navaree (a.k.a. St. Germain) was one of the first to dabble in jazz with techno music in the mid-1990s, first with his hit Boulevard. Then the legendary jazz label Blue Note released his most popular album, Tourist, which sold more than four million copies worldwide. In “Rose Rouge,” Navarre brilliantly sampled Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” for his catchy drum and bass loop.
Nu jazz ranges from combining live instrumentation with beats of jazz house, exemplified by St Germain (above), Jazzanova and Fila Brazillia, to more band-based improvised jazz with electronic elements, such as that of The Cinematic Orchestra, Kobol, and the “future jazz” style pioneered by Bugge Wesseltoft, Jaga Jazzist, Nils Petter Molvær, and others.
There are of course hundreds of variations and these are just a few examples, however, the intersection of jazz and electronic music was intermittent at best until the explosion of fusion jazz in the 1970s. This is not surprising considering that each approach to music grew from different branches of the musical family tree. Modern jazz of the 1960s was a vibrant art based on a long established tradition and affinity for live performance, expert musicianship, and improvisation.
Miles Davis once said that the way to judge a jazz artist was not by technique but by his or her ideas. There were probably many jazz artists of the 1960s who had ideas for combining jazz and electronic music but only a select few had the resources available to make it happen.
A catalyst for the use of electronic music in jazz was an openly experimental attitude that embraced the world of jazz around 1960. Electronic music was considered highly experimental at the time and existed at the intersection of many kinds of music, especially classical, music for movies and television, popular song and modern dance. Jazz was also undergoing a period of exploration with the emergence of styles including modal jazz and free jazz and the integration of classical music elements in a genre called third stream jazz. This atmosphere motivated jazz musicians using various styles and approaches to seek new sounds and means of expression. A few turned to experimenting with electronic music.
A perhaps more contemporary twist on the subject of Nu Jazz and similar takes on experimental music is Flying Lotus.
Flying Lotus (a.k.a. Steve Ellison) may sound a bit off from jazz, but his roots are undeniably the closest. As the nephew of Alice Coltrane and cousin to Ravi Coltrane (John Coltrane’s saxophone-playing son), he carries his musical family’s torch on turntables and laptops. He often collaborates with jazz musicians, including Ravi Coltrane, in his live performances. His so-called “astral jazz” is aesthetically loose, open to improvisation and unforeseen musical moments.
Flying Lotus spoke about his plans this year, including a new album, in a short interview on Beats 1 Radio. Initially talking to Zane Lowe about his work on Rick Rubin’s Star Wars album he then shifted to talking about his own solo work. “I think this will be my most prolific year if I can get out of this slump,” said the producer after premiering his new Star Wars-themed song ‘R2 Where Are You?’. Though he held back on details, he confirmed that we can all expect a new album from him later this year.
Numerous producers blend jazz with anything they can find. In “Crush” by Maxo, the Brooklyn-based producer successfully blends free jazz sounds with the type of music one would expect to hear coming out of a Super Nintendo game. Brasstracks layers dance music with brass instruments and live drums. GEOTHEORY injects jazz chords along with sampling the video game, Gran Turismo, in “Gran Tursimo (Prologue)”. Rounding things off it is clear that today’s music scene is deeply rooted in electronic production, however, one may clearly see jazz being a predominant influence in this type of production. Despite the fact that this style is deeply rooted in the underground scene (another instance of jazz always emerging from the underground), there are as you have seen many excellent examples of jazz influences in the mainstream scene.