Eclectic electric jazz comes of age
Back in the 1980s, the marriage of jazz and electronics produced the unfortunate, creativity destroying "jazz fusion" genre. That was because drum machines, synthesizer produced horn lines and computer generated hand claps were often too perfect. A sort of "sanitized for your protection" version of motel drinking glasses. Think about the then innovative trumpeter Miles Davis' album Tutu (Warner, 1986) with all its studio generated electronic gloss. The production (maybe overproduction) by Marcus Miller left little room for the human voice in the recording. Luckily it was Miles Davis. But still, listening to Tutu 25 years later, you can only cringe at its ersatz character.
Fast forward to a new century and the term "sound design" enters the jazz mainstream. Bands such as Tortoise, Exploding Star Orchestra and Supersilent, and artists such as keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft and trumpeter Dave Douglas, are incorporating electronics into their creative processes. The key is that today's artists control the medium, instead of being controlled by their machines.
That control leads to the expression of jazz creativity and innovation, and the triumph of new sounds. Here are a few new and noteworthy efforts to mingle electronics and jazz.
The two man collective, or Mikrokolektyw as it is called in their native Poland, comprises Artur Majewski (trumpet) and Kuba Suchar (drums). Like their contemporaries in the Chicago Underground Duo, trumpeter Rob Mazurek and percussionist Chad Taylor, both musicians also manipulate sound with electronics. The tone is thoroughly modern, but also a throwback to the 1970s and '80s sounds of multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry's world music explorations and bits and pieces of keyboardist Joe Zawinul's mind. The beauty of this recording is the clarity of the sound. Majewski's trumpet flutters and sings above the ponk-ponk of electronic notes on "Casio" as the bass drum of Suchar parades down the street. Their music is delivered as natural as any "straight" acoustical endeavor. Even the chopped space-ship sounds of "Gift" are eerily familiar, as if the modern condition now accepts sci-fi B movie sounds as language.
The title track is also the signature piece. The pair overdub each of themselves giving us echoing horns and percussion duets. The throbbing electronic pulses etch a background for Majewski's muted trumpet that hints at a sound Miles Davis might have been exploring if he were still alive. That may be the highest praise for this recording.
Nils Petter Molvær
Thirsty Ear Records
A veteran soundscape creator, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær is comfortable both in worlds of chilled ambience and the hotter punk arena. On Hamada he displays both sides of this music.
Paired with long time collaborator, guitarist Eivind Aarset, the soundscapes created include both dreamy, muted affairs and scratchy, bellicose stabs at aggression. Known for his ambient creations, the Norwegian musician has acquired a following for his use of hip-hop beats, and elements of house, pop and rock music.
On Hamada we are treated to Molvær's signature trumpet sound, is a combination of echoey brittleness and creamy gloss. He is a master at blending this with electronic washes and palpable bass to create a desired meditative effect. His sound processing never gets in the way of his playing, as if it has always been there. But also heard here are two tracks, "Cruel Attitude" and "Friction," where Molvær turns up the heat. Maybe something for his live shows. He amps up the levels and turns loose Aarset and drummer Audun Kleive to great effect. This remains mood music, but the mood is aggression.
Sound designer Taketo Gohara takes his place in the quintet ElectroAcoustisSilence as an equal member alongside trumpeter Mirio Cosottini, bassoonist Alessio Pisani, bassist Filippo Pedoland and drummer Andrea Melani. This jazz band makes no fuss about its odd lineup, nor seems to recognize the new territory in which it is headed.
Flatime was recorded in real time; the quintet acts and responds to electronic sounds without the benefit of post production manipulations. The disc begins with "Blue" and a few random notes, almost as a tuneup. Then the "zwip-zwip" of computer sounds enters, followed by waves of sound, not unlike water at the shore. Pedol takes up the challenge and follows with a firm walking line as the others follow tentatively, plotting notes on this new topography. The sense here is that each player is in full reaction mode to each other. And often it is someone other than sound designer Gohara who is the instigator. This quintet is just as likely to go for a bebop chamber sound as it is to drop hip-hop references. The mashup and realization of this music is both skilled improvising and the quintet's daring incorporation of electronic sound sculpture.
From the land of beyond jazz comes the duo of David Borgo and Jeff Kaiser. Their project KaiBorg exorcises the proverbial ghost in the machine.
Borgo is a saxophonist, ethnomusicologist, multi-media artist and professor of music at the University of California, San Diego and Jeff Kaiser is a trumpet player, multi-media artist and founder of pfMentum Records. Their interactions as KaiBorg are both audio and visual.
The experience here is minus the visual, but certainly the sounds describe things sometimes one might not want to see. Their method involves improvising with live electronic processing in realtime. Often with gentle micro sounds, as on "Exception Conditions," where the rumble of generated sound is more felt than heard. Then there are the full force assaults of sound, similar to the force of a tornado as it passes too close, heard on "Maladaptive Optimization." Here both Borgo and Kaiser are tearing huge sheets of sound with their respective instrument as the storm rages.
The disc's longest piece is a 16-minute excursion called "Hypernymic Entailment." The distinction between the two horn players and the live processing is inextricably blurred. Are we hearing the trumpet or electronic geese? The outer edges of sound (sometimes music) are explored into deep space. Strange and beautiful sounds here.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Revisit; Rocket Street; Running Without Effort; Tiring Holiday; Almost a Good Mood; Attention!; Lipuko; Casio; Tar Man; Watermelon From the 80s; Gift.
Personnel:Kuba Suchar: drums, electronics; Artur Majewski: trumpet, electronics.
Tracks: Exhumation; Sabkah; Icy Altitude; Friction; Monocline; Soft Moon Shine; Monocline Revisited; Cruel Altitude; Lahar; Anticline.
Personnel: Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet, voices (2-4, 8), beat programming (4), sound carpet (5, 7, 10), programming (6), metal percussion (10); Eivind Aarset: guitars (2-8, 10), programming (3, 6), bass (6), editing and arranging (6); Audun Erlien: bass (4, 8); Audun Kleive: drums (4, 8), editing (4, 8); Jan Bang: live sampling (5-7, 10), field recording (5, 6, 10), programming (5, 7, 10), editing and mixing (10).
Tracks: Blue; Corpo Bianco; Ero Uno; Vox; Letter; Moretimex; Ming's Attempt; Respiro; Moreavvio.
Personnel: Mirio Cosottini: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Alessio Pisani: bassoon, contra- bassoon; Taketo Gohara: sound design; Filippo Pedol: double bass, electric bass; Andrea Melani: drums.
Tracks: Harvesting; Flow Control; Maladaptive Optimization; Nodular; Exception Conditions; Threshing; Resumption Tokens; Postural Schema; Hypernymic Entailment; Intereaction; Reaping.
Personnel: David Borgo: soprano saxophone, sopranino saxophone, chalumeau, dudukophone, whistlophone, mijwiz, slide whistle, laptop; Jeff Kaiser: quartertone trumpet, flute, voice, laptop.