Speaking in absolute terms, there are only two kinds of electronic music: that which you shake your ass to and that which you listen to, sans copious ass shaking, for pleasure. Under the generally non-danceable downtempo electronic umbrella are two emergent styles called nu-jazz and broken beat.
These styles utilize syncopation, polyrhythyms, organic instrumentation, some improvisation and intentional song structures, and they are indeed made to listen to. That’s not to say they aren’t to be danced to, it’s just not quite as easy for some people to do so.
They are made for refined, mature tastes that yes, still like to get down, but appreciate those aforementioned elements that strictly dance oriented music lacks.
Jazzanova has helped create these styles. The six-piece German producer/DJ collective has released a handful of popular tracks, an album of remixes and now a full-length album, In Between. Members of the group maintain the Jazzanova Compost – JCR label and the artist collective and record label Sonar Kollektiv. In Between is being released in North America on Ropeadope, a tasty little imprint that happens to be distributed by Atlantic and WEA.
Based on the quality of the music, the hype and distribution, In Between should take this group and the progressive music they represent into the ears of a whole lot of people. The places Jazzanova’s music goes will be bigger no doubt, whether or not that also means better is open for debate.
The fact is, Jazzanova and other producers utilizing jazz and classical music elements will be accessible to music lovers of all kinds, possibly even the hardcore dance fans who will be some of their biggest critics.
This is hard music to categorize. Progressive electronic groups may not always have a swing ride cymbal or wailing guitar improvisations (like jam bands, the other genre spawned and greatly influenced by jazz) but they are jazzy due to the simple fact that they have a refined aesthetic and try to push boundaries of music as we know it.
What groups like Jazzanova do is make music that transcends categorization. They can lay down a hip-hop break and vibrant strings as they have on “The One-Tet,” or “Another New Day,” then shift gears seamlessly into the controlled chaos of their broken beats as on “Soon” and “Dance the Dance.” They perhaps consciously under use their trademark conga and Latin percussion but don’t forget it all together. They lay down an electronic foundation for amazing piano soloist Hajime Yoshizawa as good as any live instrumental group could.
It is easy to get lost in the lush sounds of In Between and find yourself chasing the skipping downbeats around the compositions. There are sounds on “In Between” that are obviously digital, and sounds that are obviously organic. The beauty of this crew’s production is that is often hard to tell which organ, triangle or snare drum was recorded live, sampled and sequenced or simply created digitally. Mallet percussion, congas, steel drums and jazz trap sets, Fender Rhodes organ and stand-up bass are blended with drum machines, synth lines and digital low frequencies.
They utilize an impressive palette of sounds, the most ancient of which, the human voice, will also be the element that helps this album appeal to the larger audience they hope to win.
Eight of the 17 songs utilize vocals. Lush vocals from Clara Hill and Desney Bailey make lovely the laid back “No Use” and the funky garage cut “Takes You Back (unexpected dub).” Producer and DJ Vikter Duplaix further proves he’s a future nu-soul player with his vocals on the complex “Soon” and the soft closer “Wasted Time.” MC Capitol A drops a smooth flow on “The One-Tet.” Hawkeye Phanatic is a little rougher on “Keep Falling” when he trades versus with the amazing Philly poet Ursula Rucker.
Jazzanova utilize their guest’s talents and hold, manage to make the album flow like a full-length should. With six producers and 12 guests in the mix, this disc comes dangerously close to sounding like a disjointed compilation.
Instead, thanks to short interlude tracks and an obvious attention to details of the final production, this long player ends up sounding like one hell of a super group. It is intelligent, and occasionally danceable music, but IDM (Intelligent Dance Music: a classification used for mellower groups like Boards of Canada) it is not. There are times when the music hardly sounds electronic. And yes, there are times when it sounds too much like lite jazz or watery electronica.
The thing to know and respect is that it is listenable, intelligent, diverse and pushes the boundaries of all the genres it can be lumped into.