After Jyoti’s ‘Ocotea’ comes this, another excursion into places and spaces past and present in the great jazz continuum – no less.
I’ve long been cynical about attempts at modern Fusion although a few tunes down the years such as Carl’s ‘Bassbin’ and Roni’s ‘Paper Bag’ did at least throw something of a fresh jazzy twist onto the ‘floor. But there’s seldom enough meat on the bones of all those breaks and techno tunes made in the name of ‘jazz’ as far as I’m concerned. No frightening the horses with such horrors as solos! Only mad people would dance to, say, 12mins 10secs of Jazz, called ‘Sayonara Blues’, as we used to do at the legendary Cutting Edge.
There’s no time now to have to listen to players expressing themselves – what a bore! I’m waiting for a Jazz album for the Twitter generation – each track lasting no more than five seconds – a toot here, bass note there, one chord on the piano etc. Hold on, John Zorn’s already probably done it.
So the arch crate-digger and maverick producer Madlib orchestrates, organisers and promotes this here new Jazz thing of various groups and projects. Dave (no surname given) tells us in the liner notes that when Madlib ‘was in the room, everyone was professional: smoke some weed, lay down the tracks, no distractions’. Hold on, ‘smoke some weed’?! Christ, if that’s what passes for professional behaviour amongst musicians these days, what are the unruly ones like? Smoking crack, shooting heroin and forming the beast with two backs between occasional attempts to play instruments? JB would weep. Now he was a hard taskmaster. He sacked Bootsy Collins...not for hedonistic behaviour, but for insisting on spouting The Pinocchio Theory whenever he got the chance...so I heard.
There’s a wonderfully wayward feel to much of the music on ‘High Jazz’, which is not to say it’s unprofessional, but more the product of minds made hysterical, wandering the negro streets of LA, probably, listening to all that jazz and trying to (re)make sense of it in these times. Take Yesterdays New Quintet, whose ‘live’ ‘medley’ starts simply enough with an instrumental version of Stevie’s ‘Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing’, but after the applause (so it’s not really a ‘medley’) they’re off into a far freer form of modal contemplation lead by keyboards and for part three, another introspective excursion, but this time with bass to the fore. And as on many tracks, the spirit of Sun Ra and Herbie is never far away. Generation Match’s ‘Electronic Dimensions’ captures the mood perfectly, a marriage of rhythm and synth abstraction. This is a real triumph regarding carrying the torch of the electric pioneers of Jazz. And I haven’t said that very often during all my years of blabbering on about music.
Poyser, Riggins & Jackson’s ‘Funky Butt Part 1’ does what you’d expect from the title, with added edge that distances it from most modern reworkings of the Jazz-Funk formula. And The Big Black Foot Band add another dimension to the collection with two tracks that admirably echo the ‘spiritual jazz’ tradition, complete with poetry that is neither embarrassing, nor too lengthy. In these tracks we hear all the influences, from The Last Poets to Ornette’s ‘Science Fiction’ and Shepp’s African sessions.
There’s a lot going on here, a world of Afro-Futuristic-Fusion...grooves, improvisation, bursts of energy, righteous madness...various ways in which the past can be made present and correct. As the Art Ensemble used to proclaim: from the ancient to the future.