People continue to argue about what is and is not "jazz." One of the more consistent topics in the contemporary extension of this age-old argument is "acid-jazz" – is "acid jazz" jazz, or not? This gets even more frustrating when it seems that there’s no consensus as to what "acid jazz" means, either.
Since these apparently simple, general terms seem so elusive, it might seem foolhardy to declare any one single release the definitive "acid jazz" collection.
So with the following, then, I choose to make such a foolhardy statement: Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, a two-CD, sixteen-song AIDS benefit compilation (the fifth in a series of "Red Hot" AIDS awareness media events which included a TV program of the same name and other music compilations such as Red Hot + Blue and Red Hot + Bothered ) could be THE single best introduction into that groove-strewn, shadowy thicket known by the nebulous term "acid-jazz."
Released in 1994, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, at its highpoints (and there are several), is a multihued explosion of genres, an oft mind-blowing marriage of nearly thirty of the hardest-blowin’ and sheer funkiest artists from the parallel spheres of jazz and hip-hop. Proceeds from its release go directly to The Red Hot AIDS Charitable Trust. It benefits a worthy cause, it is musically challenging if not outright educational, and it is one damn serious funky good time to boot.
The two discs generally divide into a "hip-hop / pop song" disc and a "jazz" disc, with thirteen songs on the former and three more experimental and expansive pieces on the latter. A contemplation about HIV-test results by Michael Franti and Spearhead ("Positive"), The Pharcyde ("The Rubbers Song") and a thoroughly wicked rendition of "Rent Strike" by Groove Collective with the funkmaster of the electric keys, P-Funk veteran Bernie Worrell, make the loudest "pop" on this disc.
Those seeking more of the jazz sensibility of "stretching out" will enjoy "Nocturnal Sunshine," where bassist and vocalist Me’Shell Ndege’Ocello fingerpops alongside some tasteful piano from Herbie Hancock; "Proceed II," with Roy Ayers bobbing and weaving his hallmark vibes into and out of the earthy sound of The Roots; and "Flyin’ High In The Brooklyn Sky," where legendary guitarist Wah Wah Watson peels off his trademark funk licks as rappers Digable Planets and space-age trumpeter Lester Bowie (no stranger to genre-bashing) sail and glide right on by.
A true story: The first time I heard "Un Ange En Danger," with MC Solaar rapping a slippery French duet with Ron Carter’s bass, was at a friend’s request. Carter’s cascading, resounding basslines initially sounded so monumentally, incomprehensively funky to me that I begged this friend to turn his player off. We silently sat there while I dumbly tried to comprehend Carter’s marriage of funky thump and jazz walkin’, then resumed listening to the rest of the program. Carter is simply that amazing here.
The second disc provides two (extremely) different versions of "A Love Supreme," first a more traditional reading from Branford Marsalis (with bassist Robert Hurst, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and pianist Kenny Kirkland) then a more outlandish one from Alice Coltrane with a large ensemble which includes Ben Riley, Reggie Workman, Frank Lowe and Leroy Jenkins.
Pharoah Sanders – who helps bring disc one to a close with the electric, high-voltage screed "This Is Madness," featuring vocal artists Umar Bin Hassan and Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets – then completely blasts off by revisiting "The Creator Has A Master Plan" with acid-jazzers Marc Starr (drums), Martin Fisher (guitar) and Richard Scott (saxophone) with DJ Jake Purdy. Collectively, their transformation of Sanders’ emotive, freewheeling composition is a funky space reincarnation indeed.
You can put these CDs on if you want to listen to some serious jazz playing. You can put these CDs on if you’re throwing a party and you want to get people dancing. And you can also put them on if you’re just sitting around and want to chill. It probably doesn’t much matter if you call Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool "acid jazz" to anybody other than yourself and to people like me. But you ought to know enough to call it "good," and good and funky. That’s why we’re here, to help.