September 3, 2008
A Bit Of Something Nice
Jazz is perhaps the genre that has most suffered from associated cliché, as well as saturation by sub-genres. Even the word ‘jazz’ conjures up images of the classic ‘Fast Show’ sketch, the smokey jazz club with the host turning to the camera with a cool “niice” at the end of each description/performance. Modern, commercially successful interpretations of the genre include the excruciatingly dull and unoriginal attempts of artists such as Jamie Cullum, to re-sell the classic ‘big band’ sound of the ’40s/’50s. These are successful only in their attempts to relieve dinner party-giving middle aged adults of their cash.
However, ranting and personal opinion aside, it has not always been this way. Indeed some artists consistently maintained everything good about the genre, as well as succeeding in taking it in yet more new and exciting directions. Jazz has also been reinvented in interesting ways over the years. For example, in the late ’80s/early ’90s, hip-hop producers began to sample old jazz records alongside their James Brown breaks. Jazz label Blue Note Records were a popular source of samples for these producers, as well as many fusions such as jazz/funk, jazz/soul etc.
A favourite example of mine is Souls of Mischief’s use of Billy Cobham’s ‘Heather’, from his 1974 album ‘Crosswinds’, on their classic hit ”93 ’til Infinity’.
Linking nicely on from this is a band that Billy Cobham played drums with from 1971 to 1973, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. This group employed another fusion in their music; jazz/rock, lead by guitarist John Mclaughlin. The song below is from their 1971 album ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’ (and was also sampled by another hip-hop artist, Mos Def).
Donald Byrd’s 1963 album ‘A New Perspective’ was a huge step forward in the jazz world at the time, a feat accomplished ironically by looking to the past and the roots of jazz. The album extensively utilises a gospel choir to add harmonic texture, as well as a variety of emotion not capable of being produced by other instruments. The song below, ‘Cristo Redentor’, is one of my favourite pieces of music ever written.
And lastly something for those who are wondering where all the ‘smooth’ jazz is, another personal favourite from mine, from one of my least preferable genres.
Disclaimer: All genre and sub-genre categorisations within this post are the author’s own and are most definitely open to discussion/argument in the comments section!