Thursday, 18 March 2010

Canadian Jazz, what's that!!

I thought to add a post concerning what I discovered last night whilst quickly reading another CD blog review.  Yes, more music that is beyond belief, and I expect it's everywhere. In fact probably most people know about these bands already and I'm just a little late on the uptake. I'm talking about a few bands to be found on the Canadian 'Drip Audio' label who seem to be breaking barriers between the world of jazz and rock in the same way that maybe the Rune Label has been doing but from another angle. 

First things first though, the groups themselves that I've managed to hear (*) are; The Inhabitants, Fond of Tigers, Tony Wilson 5tet, and there also seems to be plenty more where that came from, there's even a big band (or is it a collective?) called The NOW Orchestra  which I haven't listened to .... as yet!

What's very refreshing to hear (in these groups) is the ability to cross boundaries between various musics. After all, it seems that many improvising musicians nowadays are finding it difficult to place themselves into a musical area, to jazz or to rock etc. Many of them were brought up on rock 'n roll (me included - not forgetting Ray Conniff), whilst at the same time being drawn towards the world of jazz and the likes of Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Monk, Ellington, Lennie Tristano (and the list goes on). Practicing your instrument at college at home you're listening to King Crimson, where can my be-bop scale fit in there? And at the same time what music can I play live? Most musicians brought up learning jazz enjoy playing standards in jam sessions, but unfortunately it seems that it's less and less possible to make a living playing that music. The likes of Wynton Marsalis tell us it's all about tradition and that we should be studying the original masters such as Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, that's his tradition, but not mine, and it seems not a lot of other people's either. In fact it's groups such as King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Caravan, Soft Machine, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, The Clash, Joy Division, Rap Music and many more that really influence more younger musicians today than 'hep cats' from the 50s. 

Getting back to the above groups. It's refreshing to hear music such as it both stimulates and challenges. The music seems to be a mixture of various styles between jazz, electronica, rock, metal and of course prog-rock and post-rock ..... or as the jazz world likes to call it nu-jazz. From the few MySpace listens  one could place The Inhabitants into a more melodic version of Supersilent and Elephant9 - genre bending groups on the Rune label. On the other hand Fond Of Tigers seems to be taking a different approach. Their area of music seems to lie more with mixing up the sounds of Steve Riech, Tortoise,  Zappa and some heavy metal even. It's a very exciting mixture of sounds and melodies that really  stimulate you and keep you listening. It also fills a gap in what's being produced nowadays and goes nicely with the music of Henry Cow, Gong, Soft Machine and the likes from the 70s. There aren't too many groups able to produce technical and yet 'musical' music and so this is a welcome discovery for me.  Of course, this music probably isn't for Lady Gaga fans to give an example, or maybe it is? 

There are no childish lyrics about found and lost love, or bragging tales of manhood, just good (excellent) musicianship and ideas. In most cases it's about sound and rhythms and not the heroic soloist (**) which is partly what's put distance between the listener and the music in recent years I think. It's also refreshing to discover groups outside of the USA who are not towing the official line and really far more advanced and forward looking than many of their US counterparts (I'll write more about some of the UK jazz groups in a later article blog). 

Other genre bending groups that are currently on the scene could be : Kneebody, Tortoise, Polar Bear, Jim Blacks Alasnoaxis, Tyft, Present, Univers Zero,  Louis Sclavis, Quartet Offensive, Marc Ducret. If you have some more suggestions I'd be interested to hear/read them. I can and will update the list from time to time.

(*) = only via MySpace as yet, CDs will hopefully be affordable later. They're not expensive (check the label site), but as usual discoveries always seem to come 4 groups at a time ........ € ouch!
(**) = an expression I heard from Marty Ehrlich which sums up everything I hate about jazz nowadays AND unfortunately I suspect partly the end result of music education - which is another discussion to be had on this blog and elsewhere.

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