Nu Jazz

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Nu jazz grew out of the combined influences of Jon Hassel’s Kiranic trumpet playing and ‘fourth world’ rhythms, Miles Davis’ soft tone and use of ambience on “In a Silent Way”, and the early 90s intersection of jazz and electronica, particularly trip-hop, dub and down-tempo. Some early Nu Jazz artists include Nils Petter Molvaer and Bugge Wesseltoft. Over time, other influences were introduced to the Nu Jazz sound.

For a time, the jangling ambient guitar sound of post-rock was a big influence on Nu Jazz, but that has mostly faded now. Meanwhile, bands like Jagga Jazzist and Snarky Puppy have re-discovered the lush orchestrations of sophisticated easy listening and exotica arrangers such as Henry Mancini and Les Baxter. Yet another influence, one that has emerged from the sound of the popular Portico Quartet and others, is the use of repeating minimalist phrases. This use of short repeating melodic phrases not only comes from minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, but also from Zeuhl artists and a long history of European art rock. An influence from ambient music is also part of the Nu Jazz genre, this can be found in the early music of Nils Petter Molvaer, as well as others. Nick Bartsch is a popular Nu Jazz artist who often combines the repeating figures of minimalism with a dub reggae style ambiance.

All of the above mentioned influences may appear on a Nu Jazz album, but not necessarily all. As Nu Jazz continues to develop, the most constant factors tend be a relaxed 'cool' approach, an influence from modern electronica and an appreciation for ironic kitsch and retro sounds. Some early precedents for Nu Jazz can found in the Terry Riley influenced ambient sections on Soft Machine's IIIrd album, Brian Eno's use of Brand X's funk/fusion backing tracks in building his late 70s ambient art rock albums, and Miles Davis' lengthy "He Loved Him Madly" from his "Get Up With It" album.

Although there are musical differences between Nu Jazz and Contemporary Jazz, from a pop-culture standpoint, the more obvious difference between the two is Nu Jazz’s self-aware ’hipster’ stance, compared to Contemporary Jazz’s more emotionally earnest approach.

nu jazz top albums

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ESBJÖRN SVENSSON TRIO (E.S.T.) Live in Hamburg Album Cover Live in Hamburg
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON TRIO (E.S.T.)
4.94 | 8 ratings
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SNARKY PUPPY We Like It Here Album Cover We Like It Here
SNARKY PUPPY
5.00 | 3 ratings
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BUGGE WESSELTOFT New Conception of Jazz: FiLM iNG Album Cover New Conception of Jazz: FiLM iNG
BUGGE WESSELTOFT
4.82 | 5 ratings
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SNARKY PUPPY Tell Your Friends Album Cover Tell Your Friends
SNARKY PUPPY
5.00 | 2 ratings
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ESBJÖRN SVENSSON TRIO (E.S.T.) Live in London Album Cover Live in London
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON TRIO (E.S.T.)
5.00 | 2 ratings
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NIK BÄRTSCH Holon Album Cover Holon
NIK BÄRTSCH
4.62 | 11 ratings
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JAGA JAZZIST Jaga Jazzist Live with Britten Sinfonia Album Cover Jaga Jazzist Live with Britten Sinfonia
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BUGGE WESSELTOFT New Conception of Jazz: Moving Album Cover New Conception of Jazz: Moving
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4.57 | 6 ratings
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NIECHĘĆ Śmierć w miękkim futerku (Death In A Soft Fur Coat) Album Cover Śmierć w miękkim futerku (Death In A Soft Fur Coat)
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4.57 | 5 ratings
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NIK BÄRTSCH Llyria Album Cover Llyria
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4.40 | 10 ratings
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JAGA JAZZIST A Livingroom Hush Album Cover A Livingroom Hush
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PHRONESIS We Are All Album Cover We Are All
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nu jazz Music Reviews

STEPHAN THELEN Fractal Guitar 2

Album · 2021 · Nu Jazz
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js
“Fractal Guitar 2” is the second installment in Stephan Thelan’s ongoing fractal guitar series and it bears a lot of similarity to the first album, although you can also hear some improvement as Stephan and his returning all-star cast of electronic guitar heroes refine and develop their approach to modern day spatial guitar explorations. The emphasis on “2” is a little more focused on rhythm and mood, but you still get a good share of fret board fireworks from Stephan, David Torn, Jon Durant, Markus Reuter, Henry Kaiser and others. I don’t know how directly Stephan may have been influenced by contemporary African music on this one, but the carefully interlocking guitar patterns and poly rhythms bear strong similarities to today’s African fusion. Despite a healthy dose of great solos here and there, the real pleasure in “2” are those chiming guitar riffs that mix together and create kaleidoscope textures floating in a very welcome outer space.

The best tracks are the first four which seamlessly flow together as just one long song. The final two tracks are still good, but “Celestial Navigation” has a stop-start ¾ time feel that doesn’t flow as well as the previous tracks, and closer, “Point of Inflection” has a slightly different production that leans a bit in a rockish direction, although the song’s fade to ambiance does make for a good album closer. These are minor complaints and are only included so that this evaluation does not come across as too glib. Overall, “Fractal Guitar 2” is an excellent choice for fans of cosmic guitar and ambient groove music along the lines of Bill Laswell, Steve Hillage, Ozric Tentacles, Terje Rypdal, and Miles’ mid 70s band with Pete Cosey on guitar.

BLAZIN' QUARTET Sleeping Beauty

Album · 2021 · Nu Jazz
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js
There is certainly a lot of great new jazz coming from NYC, London and LA these days, but you may also want to check out some more unexpected sources such as the Balkans, where drummer/keyboardist Srdjan Ivanovic pulls a lot of his inspiration for his ongoing ensemble, Blazin Quartet. Srdjan describes his Balkan influence as being a place where the East meets the West and then is expressed through the freedom of jazz. His latest CD, “Sleeping Beauty”, bears these Balkan melodic influences as well as a cool European atmosphere brought to the project from the various other band members who hail from Greece, Italy and France. This CD bears some similarities to some of the best work from the ECM catalog. Srdjan’s abstract approach to the drums may remind some of Paul Motian, while Federico Casagrande’s relaxed guitar work sometimes recalls what John Abercrombie often brought to the label. Trumpater Andreas Polyogopoulos, bassist Mihail Ivanov and guest flautist Magic Malik (on some tracks) round out the rest of the band.

The “Intro” takes on a Silent Way vibe and is accompanied by the sound of the morning birds outside the band’s country recording studio. This track sets a perfect vibe for the rest of this album which relies on sensitive group interplay rather than jazz solo grandstanding. The different musicians on here do take solos here and there, but usually against a conversational background that breaks down clichés and expectations. Some of the best tracks, such as “Guchi” and “Rues de Balkans” get somewhat heated as the entire band solos freely while being careful not to step on each other’s toes. Srdjan claims that ‘Melody is king’, and backs that claim by taking on two classic Ennio Morricone melodies, “The Man with the Harmonica” and “A L’Aube Du Cinquieme Jour”. Both of which are given Blazin Quartet’s unique and personal treatment.

The album ends with the sound of the night birds outside their studio and thereby closes the circle of this musical journey. “Sleeping Beauty” lives up to its title, there is much to be found here, but you may need to listen closely to catch it, this is subtle music, sensitive in a way, but hardly devoid of motion and energy.

10000 VARIOUS ARTISTS Blue Note Re:Imagined

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
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js
“Blue Note Re:imagined” is a two CD collection of tracks on which current UK jazz, hip-hop and RnB artists use classic Blue Note songs as inspirations for new creations. Taking a jazz song that was originally written in swing time and then slapping a contemporary backbeat on it does not always go well, so its fortunate that many of these artists often create creations that bear little resemblance to the original. Looking at this collection as a whole, if you are expecting some hip contemporary jazz leaning pop, then you will be happy with this, but if you expecting every track to be a heavy modern jazz statement, you may find yourself wanting, but all the same, there is some good contemporary, or ‘nu’, jazz to be found.

The best jazz cuts on here come from the artists who have the strongest reps, including Shabaka Hutchings, Alfa Mist, Blue Lab Beats, Nubya Garcia and Ishmael Ensemble. Of the pop tracks, Fieh’s “Armageddon” is a standout with its interesting chord progressions. Of the tracks that don’t work as well, Ezra Collective tries to place a hip-hop beat on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and it totally undermines the mystical flow of the original. There is a saving grace on this one though via an amazing keyboard solo from Joe Amon-Jones. On the other hand, Nubya Garcia’s hip-hop reworking of “A Shade of Jade” is almost an improvement over the hard bop original. A surprise success is an odd wordless vocal rendition of “Maiden Voyage” by Mr Jukes that works really well despite what that idea would sound like on paper. I ended up making my own CD off of this two CD album by recording just the best tracks and leaving off the others, with a little editing like that you can end up with a very good collection of today’s UK nu jazz sound.

MAGIC MALIK Magic Malik Fanfare XP, Vol. 2

Album · 2020 · Nu Jazz
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js
You may have noticed the recent drop off in new albums since the world wide pandemic put a serious dent in things. As many people seek the refuge of self quarantine, artists have been forced to dig through their recording archives and release things that may not have been put out under better circumstances. We can consider our selves very fortunate that Magic Malik was able to release “Fanfare XP Vol 2” while things cleared up in Europe for a while, because at this point, this album looks to be one of the best this year so far.

For many jazz woodwind players, the flute is a secondary instrument, something to play when they aren’t playing saxophone, but for Malik, it is his main axe, and it shows. Malik gets a big beefy sound out of the flute, no small feat as it can lean towards shrill thinness very easily. “Vol 2”, like many of his albums, features a fairly large ensemble with big sounding horns like the trombone to compete with, but Malik’s muscular flute tone is always able to elbow its way into the mix. Making yourself heard is not always easy in a Malik composition as he often has more than one solo going at a time, plus most tracks feature busy ensemble arrangements that compete with the soloists for air time.

You could roughly categorize the music on “Vol 2” as ‘nu jazz’, due to its use of modern beats and tasteful electronics, but unlike other trendy nu jazz offerings that tend to be lite and fluffy, Malik’s compositions are big on substance and innovation. Its that balance of attractive modernity and deep complex musical arrangements that promote concentrated listening that make “Vol 2” such a success. It’s not boorishly heavy, but it is definitely way more than hip background. If you want to hear something new in jazz that will still sound great 50 years from now, “Fanfare XP Vol 2” is your ticket.

LINDA MAY HAN OH Initial Here

Album · 2012 · Nu Jazz
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snobb
There have never been many female bass players in jazz. Malaysia-born (parents were Chinese immigrants) and Australia-raised, Linda Oh is with no doubt among the leading.

After studies in the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (her thesis was on the classical Indian music rhythms in Dave Holland's solos), she moved to New York in 2008 where she completed her master's degree at the Manhattan School of Music and released her first album as leader all that same year.

Linda very soon became a part of New York creative jazz scene, playing and recording with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, sax player Jon Irabagon and pianist Vijay Iyer among many others. In 2011 she became a member of the Dave Douglas Quintet, and a year later, Linda released her second album as leader, "Initial Here", on Douglas' Greenleaf label.

Of the album's ten songs, all but two are Oh originals. Her compositional talent is really impressive - the opener "Ultimate Persona" recalls Charlie Haden Liberation Music Orchestra's Spanish revolutionary hymns-influenced songs and stays in your head for a long. "No. 1 Hit" is a beautiful mix of baroque and very playful Latin, with exceptional elegance, all - very groovy and danceful.

"Thicker Than Water" is a Chinese folk influenced song with another rising star, vocalist Jen Shyu singing in Mandarin and English. Of two non-originals, one is a brave and really successful take on classics, combining Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky on one song ("Something's Coming/Les Cinq Doigts").

The other is Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday", a piece of rare beauty here. The closer "Deeper Than Sad" is a piano-led memorable ballad with impressive sax soloing.

The band is really impressive - from Linda's regular collaborator of the time, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan, to capable drummer Rudy Royston and tenor Dayna Stephens (who sounds here somehow less traditional than on his solo albums).

Linda's bass is a separate story though - it sounds warm, physical, but not too heavy and dominating, more as dancing over the tunes. Perfectly recorded, the music with no doubt sounds as a bassist album, but there is plenty of space for each band member's soloing. Dense sound is surprisingly aerial, worm and soft and full of playfulness.

This album of perfect tunes, variable, well played music and positive atmosphere, once started you will return back to it most probably more often than once or twice.

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