While there are pockets of activity in the jazz scene stateside, most aficionados agree its American heyday and peak audience tailed off in the late ’70s or thereabouts. But with many heavyweight jazzmen gigging overseas, jazz took root in its own right, and the overseas version no longer has a need for mimickery.
Fast forward two decades and the permutations in jazz have truly taken on a world of their own. A new generation of musicians who grew up on their parents swinging record collections have become artists in their own right and are freely incorporating dance music and electronic production technique into the fold alongside jazz’s original—and predominately live—components. In the U.K. specifically, artists like Mark De Clive-Lowe or the 60-plus member Heritage Orchestra are taking the genre in bold new directions and they have tastemakers like BBC Radio 1 jock Gilles Peterson championing these “nujazz” sounds, as its been dubbed, for the masses.
Tastemaker Peterson has bestowed much praise on one artist in particular. Originally conceived of as a solo project, London-based musician and producer Simon Green’s Bonobo has largely been a studio affair, freely sampling and adding his own syncopated drum programming and solo playing to the mix. But taking a cue from Ninja Tune label mates Cinematic Orchestra, Green has constructed his own live group, adding strings, synths, drumming and his own bass playing into the Bonobo mix. To mark the occasion his label has released live footage of the band, performing at London venue Koko as the DVD,Bonobo Live at Koko.
Pulling from Britain’s thriving, and youthful, jazz scene, Green has enlisted session players from soulstress Alice Russell’s band such as string player Mike Simmons, drummer Jack Baker from TM Juke, and Kathrin DeBoer from Belleruche. Bonobo’s music has always been regarded for its lush layers and exotic components, but seeing the various sounds played out by each individual member in live action is a sight to behold. All the members dig what they are doing—while the technicality of the playing shines—it’s the band’s obvious love of the material takes each song to another level.
Bonobo’s interwoven components of keys, strings, saxophone and atmospherics see new life. As adept a studio technician as Green is, its evident that his music was meant to be played live. Constantly mutating throughout each song, Baker drums like a modern day Elvin Jones, more of a steady solo than mere time keeping. The string section soars in all the right spots, and Green more than holds his own on both electric and upright bass. But it’s sax-man Ben Cooke who steals the show, from his solo bop freak out on “Nothing Owed” to his more-mellow crooning on “Transmission94.” The only disappointment is DeBoer’s transition to the stage. Leaving something to be desired from Bonobo’s studio sessions that featured vocalist Bajka, DeBoer comes across flat, like a mediocre Fiona Apple, but almost redeems herself, showing a bit of range and soul on “The Plug.” Overall, we really can’t sing enough praise for Bonobo’s newest venture, wishing, if anything, that this is a journey he’d embarked on sooner.