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Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
From the publishers of THE HINDU

MUSIC & DANCE : December 05, 1999


It's acid jazz

Vinod Advani

Acid Jazz is going through growing pains. The pains that come with any burgeoning genre, the time where it leaves the underground to aspire for air time among the public, the record buyers who throng music stores around the hip capitals of the world. These days are defining moments for the fresh, young genre. But just how it will be defined and whether or not it should be categorised at all is what makes acid jazz different.

Remember hiphop? It was drawn into the mainstream market back in 1979 with "The Message," by laying down the lyrical beat "hip, hop, to the hippity hip hip hop, you don't stop". Consequently, one night in the late Eighties in an English Club, deejay Giles Peterson began playing rare Seventies grooves and reciting poetry over it. He coined the term "acid jazz" with tongue-in-cheek, but it stuck. The style of music was varied, soul and funk interpersed with jazz cuts.

Now, as advertising purports, "acid jazz" has a niche in the buying public. Instinct Records advertises itself as "America's leading acid jazz label," the Charlie Hunter Trio is a current big seller for the newer, hipper and younger sounding giant jazz label, Blue Note. And, of course, the original Acid Jazz recording label which was founded in 1988 by Peterson (who has since left and moved on to creating a new label, Talkin' Loud) and his partner, Eddie Pillar, who runs the British label today, estimates their annual sales in the millions thanks to such acts as the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Mother Earth and the James Taylor Quartet.

But what is Acid Jazz? And, as Acid Jazz is beginning to course through the veins of pop culture, will it become a trend which fades away or will it remain as a unique form into itself?

As it exists now, acid jazz falls under nearly every category. As one writer put it, "it mixes samba, bossa nova, even calypso and rumba into jazz. In a way, Tito Puente might even be considered acid jazz." It crosses genres, perhaps several times in one song. But the one thing it seems that holds it together, that must be evoked to separate it as a tried-and-true genre is "groove". It must make you want to get up and groove. This can hardly be explained with a category.

What it offers to musicians is the ability to bridge the gap between themselves and the audience, perhaps what Miles Davis was trying to do when Bitches' Brew redefined jazz by saying that jazz musicians can play to an audience for appeal, to welcome them into jazz by way of rock music. Acid Jazz, in the Nineties style, also offers the chance for musicians to meld with DJ's, to form a coalition between live and recorded music the way hip hop has attempted in its past.

Today's Jazz musicians are still open to the past, but now they are just as likely to check Chaka Khan as John Coltrane. Nineties jazz isn't post straight-ahead or retro bop. It mixes eras, ideas, feelings . . . What else? . . . and grooves. Now, for the first time in India, all those ready for a different beat have access to three volumes called Diggin' Deeper, released by Sony Music which gives an exhaustive idea of this genre that is sweeping clubs across the globe.

Acid jazz is not dead, it just smells funky! The roots of acid jazz are so broad and the reach so deep that radical verbal attack can do them no harm. If you dig deep enough, even now in 1999, there are still undiscovered gems to be uncovered. Regardless of whether it is referred to as fusion, rare groove or acid jazz, the music remains the same, the names are only a matter of fashion. In spite of this flightiness, the quality of the music remains the same.

Most of the original acid jazz hits come from the Sixties and early Seventies as stylistic barriers were disappearing. Pure jazz was combined with popular components as the "old school" provided a difficult standard of living. For this reason Mongo Santamaria was playing soul covers in addition to his Latin jazz and jazz crooner Billy Paul recorded funk and disco songs. Although the origins of this mixture were based on financial motivations, the important thing remains the resulting music.

Accordingly, this album is also based on the freedom principle. The purist may question whether one or two tracks are really jazz, we just shrug our shoulders and slide to the dance floor - it grooves so well! India born Asha Puthli is here as are legends like Deodato, George Benson and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

A sure way for any music journalist to spoil relations with a musician is to ask them to classify their music into an existing category of style. In the best case scenario their answer would be that there are simply two kinds of music - good and bad. In the worst case you would be bombarded with a long list of complaints about music journalists having nothing better to do than classify artists into restricting categories, or about the music industry as a whole making artists, marketing objects and using style categories for sales purposes.

When Gilles Peterson, well-known jazz and funk DJ, played wild hypnotic Brazil beat directly after an acid house set he noticed many similarities among those supposedly different styles of music. Peterson announced "that was acid house, now we are listening to acid jazz," and there it was; a newly created style. A category broad enough to include a variety of dance music from European free jazz to Brazilian bossa nova to American funk and soul.

Lots of treasures to be discovered like the ones presented here. "Diggin' Deeper Volume 2" is a collection of 14 tracks where well known musicians break away from their traditional "style"; ex-Zappa keyboardist George Duke explores a Brazilian love story, Latin percussionist Ray Barretto experiments with east-European classical music and modern jazz chameleon Herbie Hancock turns disco star.

"Jazz ought to be right next to adventure in the dictionary," said Maynard Ferguson.

The roots of acid jazz can be traced back to many creative musicians, such as Herbie Hancock, who during their experimental phases became disinterested in producing conventional music and used all their diverse musical experiences to progress, not stagnate. As a result these musicians "borrowed" from various sources and influenced Latin American music, particularly Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms, rock, pop, soul and funk sounds from the streets, the clubs and radio. The result was a hip, funky and eclectic mix created with the most up-to-date electronic equipment available. Of course the results did not resemble jazz in the classic sense but jazz from a new perspective.

"Diggin' Deeper 3" is a fourteen track compilation of some of the most popular acid jazz tracks around - these grooves and riffs have been sampled time and again. There is Lalo Schifrin, the Oscar winning composer and arranger, George Benson whose On Broadway is a classic, the funky Isley Brothers, Art Blakey and Hancock to groove on.


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