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Jazz by Many Other Names?

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The Ripple Effect
Hybrids
Kindred Rhythm
2005

Hybrids is a jazz album in name only - specifically the names of multi-instrumentalist John Surman and drummer Jack DeJohnette, who leads this collaborative ensemble.

One of the few musicians to have recorded or performed with Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane AND Miles Davis, DeJohnette's jazz credentials are obvious. But Hybrids tosses his cap into the modern electronica realm: With producers Ben Surman (John's son) and Big Al (mastermind behind The Sonic Kitchen, one of UK's biggest and brightest electronic music studios), DeJohnette reinterprets seven of his own pieces in modern electronica. Four come from his recent collaboration with Mandingo griot Foday Musa Suso (Music From the Hearts of the Master).

Hybrids DOES feature jazz music and world music, but ONLY as raw source materials for Surman to manipulate in the creation of a new, electronic music hybrid. "I wanted to extract some of the grooves and melodies that I was drawn to and use them in a different context, retaining the groove and feel but placing it in a different musical setting, Surman says. "I wanted to move outside of the more traditional acoustic approach and add elements you wouldn't normally find in jazz. In this respect, these Hybrids might be more Surman's than DeJohnette's.

The opening track, "Ancient Techno, says a great deal about this set. DeJohnette's fluid drums bubble up from underneath their accompaniment, constantly changing patterns and sounds like...have you ever seen a sleight-of-hand artist spin several basketballs or china plates simultaneously, running between them all to keep them spinning and in balance? His drumming sounds like that looks.

"Na Na Nai opens with Surman on either bass clarinet or saxophone, which then washes away in electronic ripples; next, vocals by Marlui Miranda, one of the world's leading researchers and performers of Brazilian Indian music, are shredded then laid in between the instruments. As Surman ghostwalks from the background into the foreground, the multiple layers of sound (drum, voice, sax / clarinet and electronic) coalesce to create a very new musical sound. DeJohnette again sets shifting tides of rhythm and sound, like a painter sampling from his palette, to create a new sound for futuristic "Worldwide Funk.

"The Just-Us Department, the final track (and the only new song), crunches out DeJohnette's most pronounced drumming on the entire set, pounding thick African drumming hewn in a modern, brittle icy metallic sound.

Garaj Mahal
Blueberry Cave
Harmonized
2005

The fifth studio release from this San Francisco quartet embodies the modern instrumental "jam band movement and preserves the freewheeling legacy of 1970s "progressive rock along the way.

Alan Hertz (drums), Eric Levy (keyboards), Kai Eckhardt (bass) and Fareed Haque (guitar) came into Garaj Mahal from varied backgrounds: Eckhardt played in John McLaughlin's trio, for example, while Haque served as occasional musical sparring partner for the late drummer Tony Williams and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. But one thing is certain: They share a unified playing spirit. This Blueberry jam damn sure shows off their chops.

The title cut beckons from a pool of electronic keyboard ripples that swim against each other in counterpoint, water-drop echoes of Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that plunge into a floating middle passage centered on a bass solo that suggests Pat Metheny trying on the instrument for size. From out of nowhere, a drum explosion detonates the concluding jam between guitar, keyboard and bass - pure instrumental dynamite. "Bicycling in Bombay more deeply thumps its bass and drum, an evocative belly dance between Haque's guitar and turntable scratches from DJ Fly.

"The Shadow, navigates a complex melody full of twists and stops, chopping out pseudo-funk guitar and organ. Its sleek glide slides into an instrumental free-for-all, with Eckhardt chewing up then belching out the bottom; this fast and focused leadoff track echoes the Frank Zappa band that featured keyboardist George Duke, one of FZ's more jazz-tinged rock ensembles. Eckhardt's flails his turns in "Paladin, a showcase for Levy, and the sitar-centered "Massive at a hummingbird's pace, with no harmonic or rhythmic missteps.

The "Cave closes with an eleven-minute ride through "Celtic Indian, a blazing group excursion and onstage concert favorite. Individually and collectively, the band plays like their hair is on fire. Eckhardt spirals so far into and out of the groove that he completely bridges the internal space between the rhythm section in the background and the keyboards and guitar in the foreground. The ensemble blitzkriegs the melody to smoke and ash, like bombardiers, to close.

Within this Blueberry Cave, an impressive display of ensemble interplay lurks under the cover of modern jam band rock.


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