May and June were extraordinary months for music in Beijing. In addition to the 9-Gates Jazz Fest (among others, Mike Stern performed this year), in the following month we were blessed with a very rare performance by Jazzanova.
For those that have never heard of Jazzanova, they are a collective of 6 German DJs. Based in Berlin, this group is one of the foremost proponents of the nu-jazz and jazz house styles of music. That’s right. DJs.
Only one of the six DJs (Alexander Barck) made it to Beijing to spin for us one night this past June. This tour was primarily to feature a singer Jazzanova’s record label, Sonar Kollectiv, signed and produce, Clara Hill. Held at Beijing’s relocated Yugong Yishan club, the night was filled with sweet tunes and really, really hip people.
How do you describe nu-jazz/jazz house? It is the culmination and answer to anyone that has ever tried to conquer jazz fusion, or jazz and funk, or jazz and hip hop, or jazz and electronica. It is the next evolution of what electronic instruments and the synthesizer have done to alter the trajectory of jazz in the past two decades. From Herbie Hancock’s first encounter with a synthesizer in Miles Davis’ band and then immortalized the ‘retro’ synthesizer sound of the 80′s, to the wide-spread use of Fender Rhodes pianos today in such popular bands like Soul Live and electric guitars of Pat Metheny, electronic-based jazz music is here to stay and will only get more intricate.
DJs can do marvelous things with jazz, things that traditional jazz musicians have been less than successful in doing themselves with their original instruments. Artists like Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Stefan Harris and Marcus Miller have really pushed their art towards an electronic vibe feel. Yet the cross-over to mainstream understanding and popularity has been difficult. DJs have a totally different set of tools they can work with, as the turn table and the mixer allows them to sample multiple sounds all at once. While jazz musicians create original source materials of any form or shape, DJs use this material in combination with any number of other source materials to create their music. Nu-Jazz DJs like Jazzanova have a special skill in choice of jazz source materials.
Jazzanova is not alone in this frontier. From France we have the famous St. Germain, who is heavier on mixing Jazz with House music. We have 4hero and Bugz in the Attic both from the UK, who are highly influenced with House and Hip Hop. Nujabes and Jazztronik, both from Japan have been producing absolutely amazing albums that can only come with the Japanese’s continued patronage of Jazz and Japanese Hip Hop.
The level of mastery these DJ groups have to have for their craft, on top of which the depth and breadth of knowledge they must possess in music history and theory, is astounding. To be able to confidently select samples from Jazz and Hip Hop, Funk and Soul, House and Drum & Bass and mix them together for the perfect sound can only be described as genius.
When I first heard Jazzanova several years ago, it changed my Jazz music obsession forever. Exploring the different type of Nu-Jazz DJs coming out from different parts of the world, and watching them collaborate has been extremely exciting.
Indeed, while this is still a new and very niche music that bisects a multitude of musical genres, I believe it is one powerful and rising movement that will come into its own prominence.
Most definitely this is still another new definition of Jazz. It will not replace jazz tradition as the embodiment of Jazz, but it certainly will add to the conversation, create a new dynamic for action-reaction among jazz musicians, and perhaps catapult jazz back into the mainstream hearts of music lovers.