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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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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KING KRULE The Ooz Album Cover The Ooz
KING KRULE
4.88 | 3 ratings
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KING KRULE Space Heavy Album Cover Space Heavy
KING KRULE
5.00 | 2 ratings
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SNARKY PUPPY We Like It Here Album Cover We Like It Here
SNARKY PUPPY
4.75 | 4 ratings
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NIK BÄRTSCH Holon Album Cover Holon
NIK BÄRTSCH
4.62 | 12 ratings
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JAGA JAZZIST Jaga Jazzist Live with Britten Sinfonia Album Cover Jaga Jazzist Live with Britten Sinfonia
JAGA JAZZIST
4.86 | 2 ratings
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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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SNARKY PUPPY Tell Your Friends Album Cover Tell Your Friends
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4.67 | 3 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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4.41 | 11 ratings
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PHRONESIS We Are All Album Cover We Are All
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4.46 | 5 ratings
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nu jazz Music Reviews

SHABAKA Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace

Album · 2024 · Nu Jazz
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snobb
I spent last week almost locked in by cold windy and rainy weather in a small apartment in "Dear old Stockholm" (which didn't look all that dear under occasional snowflakes falling around in the second half of April). Under lead-heavy clouds, the only things that brightened my mood there were seagulls' screams flying over the town and a few CDs I took with me for the trip. Shabaka's "Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace" was one of them.

Band leader and reeds player Shabaka Hutchings is with no doubt the most significant figure of a new generation of the London jazz scene. For a decade he dictates musical fashions with his projects, Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming and Shabaka & the Ancestors covering the wide range of genres from space-jazz to Afro-beat and avant-garde jazz. Still, till now his music was always very rhythmic, energetic and often explosive.

On "Perceive Its Beauty, Acknowledge Its Grace", Shabaka's first real solo album, he plays predominantly flute (not saxophones or bass clarinet, as he usually did before). As a result, we got a very much flute-jazz album, which can be an acquired taste.

Shabaka, quite predictably for such kind of music, starts somewhere between new age and world fusion here on his new album, fortunately he develops it towards more sophisticated and tasteful contemporary jazz with melodic songs and touch of electronics. There is a list of renown musicians participating here, but still it is obvious that Shabaka is an obvious leader. Even playing the music which doesn't associates with him a lot (predominantly Far Eastern, Eastern European and Latin American flutes), Shabaka sounds a bit like Shabaka from Comet... or Shabaka from Sons of Kemet.

Among the guests, there are participating pianist Jason Moran (on two songs) and rising South African star Nduduzo Makhathini, Floating Points on Rhodes electric piano, renown bassist Esperanza Spalding (on two songs), respectable New York drummer Nasheet Waits and even freshly established flutist André 3000. Still there are vocalists/rapers who's participation is probably most influential.

Differently from all of Shabaka's previous music, "Perceive Its Beauty..." is a heavily meditative and quite relaxed work, fortunately it doesn't slip into esoteric sleepy listening. Arrangements are all tasteful and quite original, rhythm changes are presented too, each of the songs included has it own face.

Never a big jazz flute fan, I chose this album because of my interest in Shabaka's music. Still, this music really made my day brighter, more comfortable and harmonic, even under dark Nordic sky. I believe those appreciating flute in jazz will find much more to enjoy.

PORTICO QUARTET Knee-Deep in the North Sea

Album · 2007 · Nu Jazz
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snobb
One-and-half decades after the album's original release, it is easy to say that "Knee-Deep In The North Sea" is one among genre-defining albums of English nu-jazz in the first decade of the new Millennium. Young quartet's debut album combines airiness and lightness of the genre's classic Nordic nu jazz from late 90s, adding more tunes and some meat to songs, making them sounding more British. More important - even on the English burgeoning nu jazz scene of the time, Portico Quartet were a stand-alone figure, mostly because of their use of "hangs"(or Caribbean-style tin-pans) and their music strongly influenced by renown minimalists.

Fate would have me hear Portico before the release of their debut, just a warm sunny day playing right in the Downtown square. It's catchy melodies and characteristic tin-pan sound was what attracted a lot of people to stay near and listen to their music with smiles on their faces. After repeated listens to their recordings, one can find that there are lot of influences from around the world, including from China to South Europe, and some free improvisation as well. Still, this debut album sounds quite accessible, and in the time of it's release was positively received much wider than only in jazz lover's circles. The 2011 reissue added three live tracks and offered a remixed sound.

A decade later, specific Portico early music's sound influenced all of the new generation of electronic sound adopted by nu jazzers, with their love for repetitive minimalist songs. Portico themselves, after a few releases in a similar style switched towards a more electronic sound with only partial success and nowadays still trying to find a new ground working as "two-members quartet". Their debut album however most probably will stay in history as one of most influential English early nu jazz releases.

KING KRULE The Ooz

Album · 2017 · Nu Jazz
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AshtrayHeart
Man what a moody album, there's this depressive feeling the album gives yet it's so...cool? Feels like I am being swallowed alive by the grimy, sludgy streets of a depressed big city. This album has elements of jazz, trip hop, post rock and psychedelia and man this album is a journey, I love the intense emotions on Slush Puppy and the samba influenced Dum Surfer and the trip hop of Biscuit Town, there's so many genres at play here yet they all fit in here, nothing feels out of place. There's low moody saxophones there's jazzy hip hop beats and punk rock bass lines and coming together to make this unique mood. And while this is a very unique sounding album there's moments here that sound like a jazzy version of SLINT's SPIDERLAND. With 19 tracks you can't go wrong with how big this album is, sure it may be a dit hard to keep up with but this album deserves multiple listens

AETHER Aether

Album · 2023 · Nu Jazz
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snobb
"Aether" is this Italian quartet's self-titled debut album. The band themselves state that their influences are King Crimson, ambient music and Nordic guitar jazz. Heavily based on synth/Rhodes sound, for my ears they sound more closer to mid-late 70s English prog band Camel. After the 70s, Camel lost the brilliant songwriting of their earlier music and switched towards a more synth-based sound.

Aether takes from Nordic guitar jazz its ambient sound, but leaves aside strong folkish component and icy cool aesthetics. The album's sound is warm and soft, almost polished and resonates pretty well with Italian prog bands of the 70s. Some added rockish guitar soloing doesn't generate a lot of fire and obviously is more of a decorative origin. On the more rock-like pieces, like "Pressure", "Moving Away" or "Crimson Fondant", Aether sounds like one of the many bands from the mid-late 70s.

Invoking some strong elements from a few different musical scenes, the band does inherit some known problems coming from the past as well. The lack of memorable compositions combined with a very comfortable sound can be a problem for some listeners coming from a rock background. Ambient elements, extracted from Nordic jazz don't work all that well separated from strong regional aesthetics and jazz improvisation as well as partially different techniques.

Impressive debut, taking more risks and searching for more expression of one's own face possibly will be an improvement.

BRANDEE YOUNGER Brand New Life

Album · 2023 · Nu Jazz
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snobb
There are not many known harpists in jazz - bop-rooted Dorothy Ashby in the 60s, strongly spiritual jazz-influenced Alice Coltrane in the 70s and ECM fans will probably know Finnish Iro Haarla as well. Classically trained New-Yorikan Brandee Younger is the new jazz harp star.

Just released, Brandee's seventh studio album, "Brand New Life" is a true gem. She plays five Dorothy Ashby compositions and two originals, along with other songs. With participation of 9th Wonder and Pete Rock on Drum Programming and r'n'b singer Meshell Ndegeocello, one might expect that this album contains danceable rhythms based in r'n'b, but this expectation would be a wrong one.

Brandee leads a post-bop rooted band playing contemporary melodic music, sort of a hip pop jazz with r'n'b, hip-hop and classic elements. The opener, Ashby's "You're A Girl For One Man Only" represents Brandee's harp contemporary sound at its best. The title track is a velvety dreamy r'n'b with Mumu Fresh vocals. Pete Rock's electronic beats-based "Livin' and Lovin' in My Own Way" is a romantic hip-hop piece, Michel Legrand's evergreen "The Windmills of Your Mind" sounds more modern with 9th Wonder added beats, but it still builds the absolutely realistic atmosphere of the French classic movie. And yes - Dorothy Ashby's "Dust" sounds here as sophisticated reggae! Only the closer - Steve Wonder's "If It’s Magic" sounds probably a bit bland.

Produced by modern jazz wizard drummer Makaya McCraven (who plays on the album as well), "Brand New Life" is an excellent stylish contemporary music release, just shhh! - don't tell them it's jazz.

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