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  New Techno Jazz  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

November 2004:

There is a musical fusion happening today.  The popular dance music of the 1990s is being blended with jazz.  Electronica is in full bloom today, and pioneers such as Amon Tobin, DJ Spooky, DJ Olive, and DJ Logic are working with jazz players on many of their projects.

Amon Tobin is the jazziest of the drum n’ bass DJs.  This Brazilian born, previously British-based, electronic composer samples everyone from Charles Mingus and Wilbur Ware to Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.  The opening track from his first album, Bricolage, samples the April in Paris intro from Charlie Parker’s Strings session and then leads the way to Sonny Rollins’ Softly As In a Morning Sunrise from his Live At the Village Vanguard Volume 2 recording.  ‘Bricolage’ was a concept developed by French structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (who taught at my alma mater the New School for Social Research in New York City's Downtown Manhattan) meaning the blending of different stimuli into one cohesive whole.  Tobin is also a multi-instrumentalist who samples himself and mixes the sounds into his luxuriant, dreamlike sound sculptures.  His second album is called Permutation, and this one is the jazziest in his catalogue.  There is a track called Nightlife that features an out-of-time bebop piano line that is mixed with cymbals -- it makes you think what is must have been like jamming all night on 52nd Street when the new music was hot.  Tobin’s third and most popular album is named Supermodified.  He reinvented himself with this project that focused more on sound morphing (the title of the album is the perfect description to his approach within).  The first track features a free jazz tenor saxophonist blowin’ hard -- it was used for a 2001 BMW commercial (just as Lee Morgan’s Blue Note album The Sidewinder was used for an automobile commercial in the 1960s).  This DJ's fourth project is titled Out From Out Where and combines jazz with classical strings.  The last track features a trippy guitar ‘lick‘ repeated over and over again accompanied by different harmonies.  Listeners should also check out his album under the alias ‘Cujo’.  On this session there is a classic track called The Brazilianaire which samples some great Brazilian-style drumming beneath a beautiful piano line.  Tobin is signed to a UK record label called ‘Ninja Tune’.  This company has a techno roster that includes many jazzy projects.  Amon received the music contract to create the score for the continuation of the Xbox/PS2 game Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.  The music of this previously Brighton-based, currently Montreal-based DJ has been used in Coca-Cola commercials and in the ‘Adult Swim’ late night television program on the Cartoon Network (not to mention as background music to BBC World News features).  During the late 1990s he was written about in a British magazine called The Wire (a great starting point for anyone who is interested in experimental music).  In recent years his tracks have also been used on trailers to motion pictures like Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and Al Pacino’s The Recruit.  The composer’s next project will deal with classical reissues, but I’m sure it will include some jazz. 

            DJ Spooky and DJ Olive are the co-founders of New York City’s ‘illbient’ music. It is a more urban take on the ambient music of Brain Eno, and a jazzier version of the experimental chamber music of John Cage.  ‘Illbient’ music is one of the truly original artistic creations of late 1990s urban spaces.  

Spooky, a.k.a. Paul D. Miller, got his name from a character out of the William Burroughs novel titled Nova Express.  In the book, ‘that subliminal kid’ goes around secretly placing mini microphones in bars and public spaces and then uses the recordings as samples.  Miller is also a social commentator and theorist who double majored in Philosophy and French Literature at Bowdoin College in Maine.  He has written articles on Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia as well as pieces on technology and music sampling.  Spooky teaches at the Swiss-based European Graduate School’s M.A. and Ph.D. programs in Media and Communication.  His new book called Rhythm Science is out on The MIT Press.  Paul works with many jazz musicians -- his album Optometry features free jazz players Joe McPhee, Daniel Carter, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, and Guillermo Brown.  He is in fact a long time collaborator with Matthew Shipp (I actually was the lead organizer in the planning and booking of their 2000 Vision Festival performance in New York City's East Village of Manhattan).  Their first performance together was at ‘The Gathering of the Tribes’ Benefit at the Knitting Factory in Lower Manhattan's Tribeca in December of 1999. (Spooky is the honorary editor, and now co-publisher, of Tribes’ publication of poetry, creative writing, and literature.  I used to jam on tenor saxophone at the beatnik-style open mic poetry sessions that founding publisher Steve Cannon held weekly at Tribes gallery in the East Village).  Shipp also mixed it up with UK electronica producer A Guy Called Gerald during the Tribes benefit in ‘99 at the Knitting Factory.  Spooky and Shipp were featured together on the cover of an experimental music zine called Signal to Noise, where they interviewed each other and talked about the state of jazz today (including Shipp’s take on Wynton Marsalis. It also included Miller’s take on Amon Tobin -- whose song he mixed on his Under the Influence album.  Note: The two DJs recently brought down the house one after the other at a Viennese rave, giving the Austrian kids a little taste of authentic techno jazz).  Spooky’s Optometry band still tours Europe, playing at jazz festivals in France and Italy.  This band is a perfect example of the new, cutting edge jazz that is being produced by lesser known artists today.  The 1996 album Songs of a Dead Dreamer introduced him to the creative music world and was used in the Soundtrack to the award-winning Motion Picture Slam.  It was issued on San Francisco’s Asphodel label (the same label singer Diamanda Galas is signed to.)  On one of this album’s sci-fi inspired tracks, Spooky also samples The New York Art Quartet’s Sweet-Black Dada Nihilismus (originally recorded for the ESP label with Leroi Jones a.k.a. Amiri Baraka reciting poetry).  His manager also manages a prominent Brazilian-born jazz guitarist named Arto Lindsey.  Jazz minded Miller also performs with rock legends Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Yoko Ono.  He in fact also has a strong interest in the creative ‘conductions’ of jazz musician Butch Morris, since these conductions use some semiotics theory in context.  

Olive has worked with free jazz drummer William Hooker and experimental pianist Uri Caine.  Recently he has also been hired by the well known trumpeter Dave Douglas.  His best recorded work is with Hooker.  The two of them recorded the album Mindfulness (on the Knitting Factory’s own label), the result of a 1996 West coast tour.  Their guest for the Bay-area session was the amazing tenor saxophonist Glenn Spearman.  The last track from the Slim’s nightclub performance is called Archetypal Space -- the drumming and sampling from this piece completely blew my mind (and changed the way I thought about so called ‘reality’) when I first heard it in high school.  Anyone interested in the fusing of techno and jazz should check out this album.  (I was given the opportunity to tour London and Scotland with Hooker and a DJ.  We would have played Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Stirling Jazz Festival.)  Olive also has a super-impressive electronica group called We™ which features wonderful beats and vocals.  This group opened up for a sold out Amon Tobin New York concert during the fall of 2000 at the Knitting Factory.  The DJ’s music has also been featured in multimedia exhibits at the Upper-Eastside’s Whitney Museum of American Art.  Today Olive tours Europe frequently and has a residency at the sub-lounge of the Lower Eastside’s Tonic nightclub. 

Bristol-based Roni Size has a popular group out called ‘Reprazent’ that combines jazzy sounds with drum n’ bass.  There is one track on his 2001 album In the Mode called Ghetto Celebrity that features Method Man rapping over a rapid tenor saxophone line.  ‘Liquid Sky’ founder DJ Soulslinger has an album out with experimental guitarist Elliot Sharp.  Turntablist ‘I-Sound’ has also worked with Sharp.  Bronx, New York native DJ Logic has a band called ‘Project Logic’ that includes jazz horn players like Joshua Redman, Daniel Carter, and Elliot Levine as well as the hot rhythm section of Medeski Martin & Wood (he also works with Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid).  His lush soundscapes shouldn’t be missed.  All of these DJs are paving the way for a new musical fusion.  Their collaborations with avant-garde players are the future of jazz.  Techno jazz is practically the continental music of Europe.  In the Scandinavian nation-states, especially in Norway, young new music enthusiasts wait in long lines outside clubs during the harsh winters so they can hear these sort of musicians bend the barriers of jazz and techno for one hour at a time.  I wish American fans were that devoted.