Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Flying Lotus' New Album Is the Most Important Jazz Record in Years

Twenty-seven years ago jazz legend Herbie Hancock released his synthesizer/turntable single "Rockit." The song was a moderate hit single and a big winner at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards. It was also the last time a single by a jazz artist made an appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, Norah Jones notwithstanding. It also seemed to mark the last step forward for a genre that had spent the previous thirty years speeding through a growth spurt that included the be-bop of Charlie Parker, the hard bop of Clifford Brown, the modal cool of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman's free jazz, and the Miles Davis-spearheaded fusion. Ever since the wave of fusion that appeared to take over jazz starting in the late 1960s, a song like "Rockit" seemed like an inevitability as organs and pianos gave way to synthesizers. The addition of the turntable scratch was a revolutionary step forward for jazz that introduced it as an instrument and wove the strands of electronic and jazz music together even tighter.

Then a funny thing happened. Nothing. There was very little follow-up to Hancock´s new take on fusion. Electronic music continued to grow, mature and change while jazz did very little growing, maturing or changing in any meaningful way. Artists from both genres continued to pull inspiration from one another to make hybrid genres like acid jazz and trip-hop, but very few fruits were born from these half-hearted liaisons. The few who took tentative steps forward found themselves widely imitated and potentially revolutionary music was quickly bastardized into dinner music for yuppies.