Monday, November 21, 2011

Five Jazz Albums Inspired by Electronic Music

Jazz began as a purely acoustic music, just like all other music of its time. But, as electronic instruments became cheaper and more widely available, some, like the Hammond B-3 Organ, the Fender Rhodes electronic piano, and the electric guitar, have been widely incorporated into jazz. As electronic instruments have developed, so has their range of use, and today many jazz musicians have incorporated new sounds inspired by electronic music. The following list of albums, a sampling of some highlights of the category, provide a starting point for fans of jazz looking for a taste of electronic music. There are many more artists making contributions in this vein, but this list will get you started.
  • Aura, Miles Davis, Columbia 1989: Miles Davis’ 1989 album Aura, a collaboration with Danish trumpeter and composer Palle Mikkelborg, is a fascinating album that puts jazz improvisation, more or less traditional big band playing and electronic instruments and studio techniques on equal footing. Some of the synthesizer sounds are very dated compared to the types of sounds most musicians use today, but the album still stands as a testament to the worthy musical possibilities of jazz’s adaptability to new settings, technologies and techniques.

    • Lawn Chair Society, Kenny Werner, Blue Note 2007: Kenny Werner’s Lawn Chair Society features an all-star acoustic jazz band with Dave Douglas on trumpet, Chris Potter on Tenor Saxophone, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This album is sometimes an acoustic jazz album, and sometimes the electronic beats and sounds are like a sixth member of the band
  • Witness, Dave Douglas, RCA 2001: Laptop musician Ikue More provides a chameleonic counterpoint of electronic sounds to an acoustic ensemble. This album is an atmospheric collision of acoustic improvised music, abstract electronic textures, and the poetry of Edward Said and Taslima Naslin, which is spoken in a harsh whisper by singer Tom Waits. This is a profound album where beautiful acoustic melodies provide a dramatic foil to the abstract electronic and acoustic abstractions.
  • Animation/Imagination, Tim Hagans, Blue Note 1999: The most electronica-inspired of all the albums listed here so far, Hagans’ 1999 album builds on Miles Davis’ late work with heavy, up-tempo beats inspired by the electronic dance style drum n’ bass. Opening the album with a burning trumpet, drum and bass improvisation called “The Original Drum and Bass,” the album weds an acoustic jazz band to a drum machine with a churning mix of percussion sounds that create a thick, complex groove.
  • The Moment’s Energy, Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, ECM 2009: Falling on the fringes of jazz, this album explores the meeting point of electronic and acoustic improvisation with the focus squarely on sound quality. This group finds traditional jazz instruments, saxophone and trumpet, next to traditional eastern instruments, like the Ko, a bamboo mouth harp. The album’s thickly textured improvisations covering a bewildering range of sounds are a true sonic experience.

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