Thursday, April 15, 2004

The real question is, what's happening in jazz-rock today?

Well, not as much as we'd like...

There are the real chops-oriented guys; I won't name names (most of them are
guitarists), and some of these players have done great things over the years
(and continue to play to large and loyal followings). However, many of these
guys have given jazz-rock, as a genre, a bad reputation for being a cold,
speed-driven riff-fest. But at the same time they are also partly responsible for
keeping the burning spirit of jazz-rock alive. Although I still appreciate
it, this brand of jazz-rock doesn't particularly excite me anymore.

Dissing smooth jazz is kind of a cliche at this point. Everybody knows that
most of the stuff on the radio that's considered 'smooth jazz' is suction cup
fluid. But every style has its originators and I was lucky to work with one
of the few masters of this genre, Grover Washington Jr. When Grover established
his sound in the early 70's it wasn't called 'smooth jazz'; it was a natural
mix of jazz and R&B.

Following a Miles thread, Marcus Miller has done some excellent stuff over
the past few years, and his band is very cool. But at the moment, jazz-funk
with heavy grooves and moving 4ths and polychords doesn't seem as interesting to
me now as it did in the late-90's. This is an area of jazz-rock where I have
kind of set up camp with my own band, Brave New World, for the past few
years...but now I'm ready to Move Forward. Towards Mars.

Although there are still some great bands out there (like the Yellow Jackets
and others) it seems, recently, that there's been more creativity coming from
the "rock" side of jazz-rock, where artists like Peter Gabriel and Radiohead
are trying harder to do something new. So expect to read more about other
styles of music here as well! We love it all: straight ahead, R&B, funk, rock,
prog-rock, hip-hop, gospel, world, experimental, classical, you name it!

Of course the remaining Masters are still out there, touring and recording,
like Herbie, Chick, McLaughlin, Wayne and Zawinul, although most of these guys,
the Miles Alumni, have recently been leaning towards a straight ahead format,
with the exception of Zawinul and Herbies "Future 2 Future" project.
Scofield has been touring and recording with a good electric band, but Mike
Mainieri's Steps Ahead and even Bill Bruford's Earthworks have evolved into
all-acoustic groups. In other words, the Originators of Jazz Rock are no longer pursuing an electric sound.

To quote from Bill Bruford, our featured artist:
"...It's a musician's job to spot these changes and ride with them. From
1974 onwards all the creative stuff had already been done. It's always like that
if you look at any art movement. With jazz-rock there were two or three
great years when the thing was invented. After that all the late comers arrive
and copy the original and you may as well move on because there is nothing new
left... It is people going through the motions. I am sure they do it
extremely well. But it is NOT the age of discovery. It is deja vu."
[as told to British music journalist Chris Welch]

So we have to push jazz-rock forward into a NEW AGE OF DISCOVERY. That is the
creative challenge of the 21st Century!

Adam Holzman