Originating in the African-American communities of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, jazz has become one of the great modes of musical expression which has spread its creative tendrils into myriad musical cultures. Deriving from earlier blues and ragtime traditions, the DNA of jazz can ultimately be traced back to West African musical cultures, as well as European military band music. It therefore comes as no surprise that this most elastic and enduring of art forms continues to evolve and be reinvented in the hands of musical innovators who are able to harness its seemingly limitless potential. This Rough Guide showcases a baker’s dozen artists and acts from around the world who share the same goal of pushing the boundaries of jazz with truly remarkable results.
The album opener by the Guillaume Barraud Quartet is a real fusion gem which reflects the spirit of India through the prism of jazz. After many years studying with the legendary Indian flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, Guillaume Barraud explores the sound of the bansuri (Indian flute) with his contemporary jazz quartet. Named after the Indian raga ‘Kalavati’ the sound of the bansuri soars and weaves within this fusion setup, creating a beautiful and unlikely hybrid that borrows from both Western and Indian traditions.
Freed from the shackles of defining identity with their homelands, the six members of Out OfNations each carry a different passport, but share the same musical vision of journeying between cultures. Written by Lety ElNaggar,a composer and reeds player born to Egyptian and Mexican immigrants, ‘Tribute To A Time’ celebrates a bygone age, with lush orchestral strings soaring behind a daydream of a tenor sax melody. Suddenly, the dream morphs into a new vision, with Latin-inspired riffs and improvisations jumping in along the way before concluding in a celebratory jazz waltz. This leads us into the beautiful laid-back groove of ‘Kazan’, written by the ‘King of apocalyptical cabaret’ and reeds player Boris Kovač. Taken from his Riverboat Records album Eastern Moon Rising, the Serbian-born Kovač welcomes you with a beating jazz heart to a place where East and West converge.
Via their powerfully original music, Monoswezi unite the sounds of their world, marrying Scandinavian jazz and minimalism with the looping riffs of traditional music from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Creatively they carve a musical link that not only sounds entirely new, but crosses the oceans, eschews politics and embraces wholeheartedly the values of cross-cultural collaboration. ‘Kalahari’ is a beautiful example of this musical ethos, as saxophonist Hallvard Godal impersonates a desert flute with his alto clarinet, helping conjure up images of an arid and expansive landscape. Likewise, the Karl Strømme Quintet, a band at the forefront of the Nordic jazz scene, combine references from other musical styles to give their music a fresh and exciting edge. Band leader and trumpeter Karl Strømme gives the music a unique flavour with the use of an analogue synthesizer which he plays in tandem with the trumpet, and in his words ’gives simpler but stronger melodic lines when improvising - like painting with a broader paintbrush’. The track ‘Dynalyd’ means ‘dynamic sound’ in Norwegian and incorporates an African-influenced groove with a wonderfully original and playful melody.
A truly revolutionary guitarist, John McLaughlin was a central figure in the jazz-fusion movement as part of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti, and here he features alongside the Hindustani slide-guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya. On 'A Mystical Morning', John peppers the track with delicate interjections that showcase his intimate knowledge of Indian modality spun through with his jazz rooting, as the two maestros embark on a dextrous guitar question-and-answer session. Taken from Debashish’s seminal album Beyond The Ragasphere their artistry rockets past any constraints of traditional raga form, as they explore new cosmic collaborations, and like all of the featured artists draw on the essence of jazz to help achieve their artistic vision.