There is no shortage of matchmakers seeking to arrange the marriage of jazz and hip hop. Back in the 1980s, pianist Herbie Hancock
collaborated with DJ DST, while hip hop duo Gangstarr ostentatiously sampled classic jazz records. In the 1990s, rappers A Tribe Called Quest invited bassist Ron Carter
to play on The Low End Theory
(Jive, 1991), while saxophonist Greg Osby
, in turn, brought in Quest producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad on his 3D Lifestyles
(Blue Note, 1993). Today, Robert Glasper
subtly draws upon hip hop beats in his piano trio, while Jan Bang
's "live sampling" draws upon the methodology, if not the sound palette, of hip hop. Even if the union is never a perfect one, the idea of the mix is endlessly inspiring to musicians from both camps. The energetic Belgian jazz trio Aka Moon
and DJ Grazzhoppa's collective of turntablists modestly innovate on this legacy in two ways on their collaborative disc.
Aka Moon and the DJ Bigband are not overly worried by the momentous stakes of the hip hop/jazz marriage. There is a tendency going back at least to Gangstarr on such hybrid projects to make sententious statements about the apocalyptic force of the hip hop/jazz fusion. The musicians on this record employ, in contrast, employ a light touch, conceptually speaking, and that makes the project more fun. (True, on one selection a sampled rapper points out that we're hearing "the history of musicin one track," but that's the only occurrence.) At various points, the DJs use North and West African samples to punctuate musical points, but without giving the impression that this is some kind of overwrought global fusion: it just sounds good. This light touch in itself is a sort of innovation.
A second innovation is the DJ Bigband itself: twelve turntablists, from Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Britain, acting as a musical ensemble. The orchestral sense of this group work is most immediately evident in the call and response between concert master DJ Grazzhoppa and the others on the phenomenal "12 Sentences," everyone scratching a record of human voices in what amounts to a twisted machine chorus. Later in the track the turntables collectively trade fours energetically with drummer Stéphane Galland, who sounds like a slightly- crazed Brian Blade
Elsewhere, the many turntables enter individually with different recorded sounds orchestral, big band, Middle Eastern. Whereas turntable scratching is used by many DJs in hip hop for its percussive effects, here the DJ Bigband emphasizes, cleverly, the swooshing texture and the harmonic possibilities of the records themselves. The record is nevertheless very funky, thanks to the tight playing of Aka drummer Galland and bassist Michel Hatzigeorgiou.
Saxophonist Fabrizio Cassol, last but not least, quotes the scratching in the midst of veritable jazz solos; he's having a ball at this oft-celebrated marriage of styles.
Visit DJ Grazzhoppa's DJ Bigband
and Aka Moon
on the web.
Personnel: Fabrizio Cassol: alto saxophone; Michel Hatzigeorgiou: Fender bass;
Stéphane Galland: drums; DJ Grazzhoppa, DJ Boulaone, DJ
Courtasock, DJ Iron, DJ J to the C, DJ Lamont, DJ Mixmonster Menno,
DJ Optimus, DJ Smimooz, DJ Vindictiv, DJ XXL, DJ Yzerbeat, DJ Cee
Brown: turntables; Monique Harcum: vocals.