A Journey into Electro-Jazz, Future Jazz, and Dark Jazz

A week ago, I finally started listening to my archive of the first 154 releases on the legendary Ninja Tune label.  From the early 90s forward, nearly every artist with a progressive electronic sound and a touch of jazzy flare was on Ninja Tune.  

I was already a fan of the big names in Future Jazz like Jaga Jazzist, Bonobo, Funki Porcini and St Germain.  The first LP I bought after being bitten by the electro-jazz bug was St Germain’s classic Tourist album on Blue Note Records.

Here’s “Rose Rouge,” a classic example of electro-jazz.

That album instantly reminded me of LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards double LP (released in ’00 – the same year as Tourist) so I picked up a 94-disc archive of Intelligent D’n’B records, including Bukem’s Good Looking Records label, the Earth series, and several  others.  

My favorite album from that new selection was Big Bud’s Late Night Blues, which I’ll be ordering on vinyl soon.

But as I continuted to research the Future Jazz genre, a few artists clearly stood out from the crowd.  

From Hidden Orchestra’s official profile:

Hidden Orchestra combines two live drummers and deep basslines with strong jazz and classical influences, to make cinematic, emotive, percussive, next generation music using traditional instrumentation and organic samples.

I was similarly entranced by the stripped-down rhythmic and melodic jazz loops of The Cinematic Orchestra, particularly their earlier LPs, Motion (1999) and Remixes 98-2000 (2000).

For example, listen to “Channel 1 Suite” from Motion. (A possible nod to Buddy Rich?)

Or for a taste of electronic free-jazz from the very same LP, “Blue Birds.”

And from the album, Everyday – the slow and bassy “Burn Out.”

That’s when I hit the brick wall of harsh reality surrounding the family of Future Jazz LPs –

They cost a small fortune.

What I soon learned was that Ninja Tune is a small, independent label and they pressed very limited numbers of these fantastic albums in the 90s and early 2000s.  As such, many of these discs command $50 – $150 per album if you want the real thing.

And I wanted the real thing.

But two days of searching yielded the most wonderful discovery I could have ever asked for.  There is a site called BeatDelete.com.  Think of them as a Kickstarter for all your favorite, out-of-print records.

Ninja Tune was offering all their greatest albums from the 90s to be pre-ordered for reissue on BeatDelete.  100 orders locked in the re-pressing, and then they’d take it off the site.

I couldn’t throw money at the monitor fast enough.

I locked in pre-orders for two of my favorite Cinematic Orchestra double LPs and tracked down an original copy of Remixes 98-2000 from a private seller who also had a mint copy of DJ Food’s Kaleidoscope (another of my new-found favorites from the Ninja Tune archive.)

Kaleidoscope is the magic album I hinted at in my last entry.  DJ Food samples both the Del Close & John Brent How To Speak Hip LP from ’59 and features the smokey vocal legend of the 50s and 60s – Ken Nordine.  

And that jazzy upright bass plucking you hear is Benny Golson’s “Wink” from ’67.

The “thinking man’s” track he’s introducing at the end of “Ageing Young Rebel” is the reason I had to buy this record.  Here it is – “The Crow.”

And then, I discovered darkjazz.  Call it what you will – darkjazz, doomjazz, noir jazz, funeral jazz… It’s magnificent stuff.

From last.fm:

Dark jazz is a form of modern jazz characterized by the fusion of downtempo, minimalist ambient music with jazz. The term is often used interchangeably with doom jazz, and is comparable in feel and mood to dark ambient music.

There are approximately 100 contemporary artists which fall into the category of darkjazz, but there are three names among them that you need to know: Bohren und der Club of Gore, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation and their other half – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble.

For those who understand silence to be the most beautiful song the in the world, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s 2011 LP, From the Stairwell will take your breath away.

Almost literally, in fact – as I found myself holding my breath throughout my entire first listen, perhaps from fear that my breathing might interfere with the hauntingly fragile sounds coming from my studio monitors.  The album is full of half-audible frequencies – whisper-soft percussive tones, electronic sounds who’s source the listener can scarcely place, and gently-played fragments of jazz solos which vanish as subtly as the appear.

From the Stairwell is a contender which could challenge Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way for the quietest album ever recorded.

And if The Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion is an evening in a smoke-filled jazz club, then From a Stairwell is the intoxicated alley-walk home when the night is through.

In the age of the loudness war, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is a beacon of hope that delicate and well-produced records will survive the millennium.

Here is Kilimanjaro’s “Cocaine.”

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