The fact that 2003 was the year in jazz of the original jazz tunes vs. the electronic/remixed ones is probably apparent. Perhaps it is even redundant to say that the trend of labeling this type of multilayered crossover as ‘nu-jazz’ appears to be yet another marketing exercise. Such an interesting crossover of jazz forms and electronics was, as usual, to be labeled ex-post, but the ongoing project of making it happen, lasting for more than a decade, has had among others an unquestioned protagonist: the London-based label Ninja Tune.
Recent American projects as Hancock’s Future2Future, Hargrove’s RH Factor and European ones as those by Molvaer, Peterson, Bates or E.S.T. - just to name a few - have parallels in the work of labels like Ninja, heavily banking on and partly promoting the so-called new sound of jazz, even if from a peripheral position.
Jazz was originally employed as opposed to and to smooth down otherwise flat and sometimes too bold electronics, whereas harmonic depth and rhythmical sensitivity were gained through a very clever adaptation of jazz as sort of inspirational playground for DJing (as recently in the Verve project.) Jazz tunes were employed to simply fill in the gaps of binary beats or - as applying to Ninja Tune - as a powerful tool able to reshape electronic taste from the inside, with syncopation and free structures playing a key part in modeling the crossover.
As such, not only some of Ninja’s musicians regularly play jazz, but their habitual collaboration with DJs has without any doubt contributed to re-shape the role of the turntablist as the ‘new jazz musician’ in being.
Ninja’s brand-new releases ‘ZEN CD - A Ninja Tune Retrospective’ (ZEN CD85) and ‘ZEN RMX - A Retrospective of Ninja Tune Remixes’ (ZEN CD85R,) out February 9th, are the first ‘Greatest-Hits’ style compilation in a decade of such imaginary design in music. The first double-CD retrospective presents an extract of more than 50 original tunes from the Ninja stables, largely paired in the second one with their remixed counterparts (a selection of remixes from Cornelius, Fourtet, Ashley Beedle, Manitoba, Dr Rockit (Herbert), Domu, Luke Vibert, Fredric Galliano and DJ Food - just to name a few.)
Amazingly enough, the remixes never sound as a mathematics ‘squared’ equivalent of the already heavily comprised with electronics originals.And that is perhaps where the flair of jazz rests: not as much in the sound - which still falls into the melting-pot of nu-jazz/funk, electronic, hip-hop or whatever else a crossover can be labeled - as in the approach to the remix as rearrangement in all its originality and complexity, a sort of ‘standard revisited.’
Ninja is definitely setting the pace to a new form of fusion in jazz, encompassing the DJs as part of the ensemble, the turntables allowed to jam with the other instruments, and not secluded to play a musical carpet.The rules of this game still to be defined, 2004 will surely be electrifying to watch.