What comes to mind when I say the words “dance music”? If you’re familiar with the current trends of the music industry, then your first mental images may very well include electronic DJs (meaning DJs that spin electronic music, not electrically-powered robot DJs), underground raves, and massive throngs of people jumping up and down. But this is only this decade’s version of dance music. If we travel back through the history of music, we pass by the synthpop of the 1980s, we say hello to the rise of disco in the ’70s, and we predate the birth of rock and roll as we settle down in the early 1900s. Imagine the scene in America at the turn of the 20th century. The European tradition of ballroom dancing had carried over into American culture, but the sudden rise of jazz out of the South soon took the world by storm. Before anyone knew what was happening, big bands and swing music became the new craze sweeping across the nation, and artists like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Glenn Miller became household names.
Now, swing music was all well and good, but that died away many decades ago, didn’t it? Well no, that’s not entirely true (certainly not if Brian Setzer has anything to say about it). As I talked about in my post several months ago on Nekta, an artist going by the name of Parov Stelar is generally credited as the pioneer of the latest swing revival movement, this time fusing it with modern electronic music to form a brand new fusion of genres: electro swing.
I’ve got to say that one of my favorite things about the current music industry is this strong resurgence of jam band music and culture that’s been going on for the past several years. As someone who wishes they had been alive to witness the explosion of psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and the jam band scene in the ’60s and ’70s, I am extremely happy about the genre’s relatively unimpeded longevity. After the Grateful Dead’s disbandment in 1995 as a result of guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia’s death, the band Phish stepped in to fill the gap. Although they never achieved quite the amount of success and popularity that the Dead had, they certainly helped to keep the scene alive for the next decade. They were also an integral part of the rise of large-scale music festivals in the modern era. If you think about all of the festivals that host yearly events now – Bonnaroo, Coachella, Camp Bisco, Rootwire, Lightning in a Bottle, All Good, Wakarusa – the list goes on and on.
Dopapod is a group that is quickly rising to the forefront of the jam band scene. Born in 2007, they recently released their third studio album, Redivider, on 12/21/12. The entire record was recorded in a barn at Tyrone Farm, a solar powered farm in Pomfret, Connecticut. Despite the fact that it was released less than a year after their previous album, Drawn Onward (side note: if you haven’t picked up on this yet, the band really likes palindromes), there is nothing about Redivider that gives away any sense of rushed preparation. As a matter of fact, the entire thing is pure, musical gold.
I’d say it’s about time I dig into the archives of music released earlier than just the past few years. As soon as I made that decision, one specific artist popped into my head almost immediately: Herbie Hancock. And why not? He’s only one of the most influential musicians ever to exist in the jazz fusion world. I would bet money that a large majority of the artists that I’ve featured previously on the site were influenced either directly or indirectly in some form by Herbie Hancock. He was a man who extended his creative genius far beyond the world of jazz. He was a musical innovator that made breakthroughs in the use of electronic synthesizers and freeform improvisation. He combined stylistic elements of jazz, blues, funk, and modern classical music into a totally unique fusion of genres. The legacy which he has created will last for many long years to come and influence many new generations of musicians. Anyone who claims that Hancock was “before their time” deserves to be slapped senseless.
The album that I’m focusing on in particular today is one of his 1974 releases, Thrust. As the followup to his ’73 release Headhunters, Hancock was now firmly entrenched in the widely popular, highly competitive funk-jazz-fusion game of the era. But Herbie is never one to be outshined or assimilated into a much greater collection of mediocre artists. No, he has always been the one to push the limits past the point where anyone thought they could go. In order to accomplish such a gargantuan undertaking, he’s assembled a legendary cast of characters to accompany him. On bass guitar is his main man, Paul Jackson, who went on to play on nine of Hancock’s subsequent releases. Bernie Maupin, a master multireedist, takes care of all the lead woodwind parts. Aside from his work with Herbie, he is most well known for his performance on the seminal Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, his role as a bandleader, and his collaborations with the likes of Horace Silver and McCoy Tyner.
“Submotion Orchestra have rapidly built up a reputation as one of the most interesting and original projects emerging from the UK today. Drawing upon dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub, their unique music is at once delicate and heavy, spacious and dense, highly atmospheric but firmly rooted. Earth-shaking bass and drums combine with lush keyboard and trumpet textures to create the perfect bed for the fragile beauty of Ruby Wood’s vocals, and the celestial effects of sound designer Ruckspin.”
The paragraph above is an excerpt pulled from the bio posted on the group’s website. Let’s take a minute to reflect on those words. Dubstep, soul, ambient electronica, jazz and dub. Those of you that keep up with my posts on this site will know by now that I’m always a big fan of cross-genre mixtures. In that regard, Submotion Orchestra have certainly gone above and beyond with their newest album, entitled Fragments. It’s actually the ideal combination of styles – many opponents of the advent of popular electronic music will use the argument that it such genres sound too “robotic” or “repetitive.” If we posit for a moment that such a claim is true, then surely we could turn to jazz as a musical style on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Just about everything about jazz is based around live improvisation and the interaction between players.
Since his days as the musical director of the 1980s-era of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Terence Blanchard has been a leading figure in the modern jazz movement. I’m sure that many of us are well-acquainted with much of his work throughout the three decades. In recent years, he has been keeping himself remarkably busy with a constant slew of original film and TV scores, including the 2012 picture “Red Tails,” which was executively produced by George Lucas. Now, Blanchard returns to the renowned Blue Note Records with his latest studio album, Magnetic.
The aggregation of over 50 soundtrack credits as composer as left a clearly discernible mark on the musical sensibilities of this esteemed trumpeter. Although Magnetic has distinct roots in the jazz tradition that he has become known for, it does not hesitate to travel through whole new realms of sound that had not previously been explored. These voyages are by no means an unwelcome change, however. They instead add a keen edge of heterogeneity that elevates the album towards a much greater plane of musical excellence.
As the music industry has moved into its newest era and embraced the digital revolution, a number of new styles have emerged as a result of classic genres incorporating electronica influences. Some such fusions have become fairly popular over time, such as industrial rock, space rock, and indie electronic (“indietronica”), but there’s a wealth of richly developed styles that have remained relatively unheard of. Electro swing, for example. Electro swing had been lurking just under the surface of discovery for many years, until Parov Stelar, generally credited as the founder of the genre, began releasing music on his newly created label, Etage Noir Recordings in 2004. After his breakthrough, a community of electro swing musicians quickly began to form and gain momentum, with groups like Caravan Palace building further popularity for the style. Today, I present you with a musical duo that presents a slightly different side of electro swing. Together, vocalist Nathalie Schäfer and producer Gyso Hilger form Nekta.
In 2009, Nekta released their second full-length album, Storybook. With this record, the duo presents a unique blend of old-time swing and deep house elements. Their music is generally more laid-back than that of other, more well-known electro swing groups, which helps to distinguish them from their contemporaries. In the words of Nekta themselves, “…it is hard to say whether the twelve new titles [off of Storybook] are retro, still modern, or already classically timeless. The successful attempt to put Jazz and Pop, acoustic and electronic sound generators, and a danceable club appeal on one hand with the qualities of songwriting on the other under one common denominator.” This sums up the main goal behind this kind of music rather concisely. When combining two very different styles of music into one, the final result (if done correctly) is getting the best of both worlds, and that is exactly what Nekta has done.