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6 Genre-Bending Artists Fusing Jazz with Electronic Music

Mndsgn
Mndsgn via Facebook

What is jazz to you? Is it the slightly irregular rhythms? The familiar sound of an upright bass? Or is it the freedom to interpret and improvise? Naturally, there is no single answer to this question. By its nature, jazz evades strict definition — especially when its influence is so enormous, and “what jazz was” has since transformed into hundreds of different styles and genres. Continuing on our recent exploration of the ways jazz has influenced rock, pop, and hip-hop, I wanted to look into how electronic artists are infusing jazz into their work.

But that led to a second problem: How do you define electronic music? Is it the use of electronic and digital mediums? If so, isn’t all music today “electronic” to some degree? Like jazz, it’s been impossible for me to pinpoint a definitive characteristic of all electronic music. It’s too diverse. Just look at the number of electronic sub-genres in this list! So to make it easier, I’m looking at artists who call themselves electronic musicians, and in particular, at the ones who I think are pushing the edges of the genre today — experimental electronic artists. You’ll notice that a lot of these artists don’t fit easily into a single genre — they blend many different ones, which is what makes them so interesting.

Let’s start with the big names…

Squarepusher

Squarepusher, a.k.a. Tom Jenkinson, is the poster child for this discussion — a trailblazer in the movement. Signed to Warp Records (THE label for all the big names in electronic music and IDM, see: Aphex Twin) who have handled all his releases since 1997, Jenkinson continues to push out music that evades genre. In April 2015, he released his first solo LP album in three years, Damogen Furies, which he describes as his attempt to “explore as forcefully as possible the hallucinatory, the nightmarish and the brutally visceral capacities of electronic music.”

His music is overwhelmingly eclectic — a musical minefield of genre amalgamation. He pulls from not only jazz, but also acid house, drum ‘n’ bass, ambient, jungle, and electro acoustic music. In my eyes, Squarepusher is a jazz musician at heart, but his musical mind wanders deep into electronic experimentation.

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus, a.k.a. FlyLo, a.k.a. Steven Ellison, is the next generation Squarepusher. Where Squarepusher may have started the “nu jazz” conversation with a few people in Britain, Flying Lotus lead a global conference. He founded Brainfeeder, a label that is pioneering the blending of jazz with electronic and hip-hop by signing artists like Kamasi WashingtonThundercat, and Taylor McFerrin. Like Squarepusher, FlyLo himself is signed to Warp Records, his most recent release being the studio album You’re Dead in 2014. On this, he collaborates with Kendrick Lamar on the hit “Never Catch Me.”

Though You’re Dead was a brilliant album (like all of his albums, really) Cosmograma is his masterpiece. Released in May 2010, the album marked a new era for FlyLo. Where his previous albums relied predominantly on electronic and digital mediums, Cosmograma draws on many acoustic instruments and live performances. It also features an epic line up of guests including, Thom Yorke, Laura Darlington, and of course, Thundercat. Here’s my favorite track on the album:

Now the underdogs…

Taylor McFerrin

Taylor McFerrin, as mentioned, is signed to FlyLo’s label Brainfeeder with whom he released his debut album Early Riser in 2014. McFerrin is the eldest son of the legendary vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and I can confidently confirm that McFerrin junior has inherited the jazz gene. Taylor McFerrin’s foundation as a musician is quite eclectic; he’s a vocalist, keyboardist producer, and beatboxer… essentially a multi-instrumentalist.

On Early Riser, he explores this ambient, atmospheric space where he takes his listeners on what feels like a sonically-induced acid trip in a rainforest. His influences range from Stevie Wonder all the way to J Dilla, stopping by at Brian Eno’s crib. Taylor McFerrin is a jazz fusionist, more so than an electronic musician. On Early Riser, he collaborates with Thundercat, Robert Glasper, Nai Palm, Cesar Mariano, Emily King, and daddy dearest! Here’s my favorite tune on the album:

+ Read more on Flypaper: “8 Bedroom Producers You Need to Know Right Now”

Mndsgn

Ringgo Ancheta a.k.a. Mndsgn (pronounced: “mind design”) is another producer who dabbles in between jazz, hip-hop, and electronic. Signed to Stones Throw Records, Mndsgn released his debut album Yawn Zen in 2014.

Personally, he has a captivating backstory: His parents were members of the Philippine arm of the Aum Supreme Truth Cult, and fled to the US in the late 1980s following the group’s turn towards terrorism. They were granted political asylum and settled in rural New Jersey where Mndsgn grew up with no electricity. He had never heard modern music before he hitchhiked to Philadelphia, which is where his musical career began.

Yawn Zen is a extensive expedition into his musical mind — with warm, fuzzy harmonies surely inspired by the LA summer vibes. One wonders how someone who had such minimal exposure to musical influence growing up can make something like Yawn Zen…. must be a really quick learner. The album is a low-key, mad chill, and meditative journey. Mndsgn’s innocent vocals layered with the neo-soul and space disco vibe, place him right in the center of our discussion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FunNQzfxa_o

Lionmilk

Lionmilk sounds something like the East Coast equivalent of Mndsgn. His real world name is Moki Kawaguchi and, full disclosure, he’s a good friend of mine. I met Moki at The New School in an Ambient Music class, which is an appropriate place to meet someone like Lionmilk. He spends his days playing keys for The Breathing Effect, signed to Alpha Pup Records. But when the sun sets, Lionmilk emerges with his otherworldly sound and dreamy vocals.

Like all the artists in the article, I have a hard time putting Lionmilk into a box, but if I must, I would describe Lionmilk’s music as an interplay between experimental jazz and experimental electronic. Though it’s clear to any listener that he’s got a major hip-hop influence. Listen to his newly self-released his album YUMS here.

YUMS is a world of its own — another realm of sounds! Lionmilk creates this soundscape of ambient sounds, eerie conversations, smooth Rhodes, and his own indie-style vocals, that invites the listener to get lost inside. So, listen up NYC! Lionmilk is the best kept secret I’ve come across in a while and I don’t say that lightly, so go listen to his music and share it!

Zack Sekoff

Another LA native! Zack, a 19 year old vocalist/multi-instrumentalist, has quickly established himself in the electronic/soul/jazz renaissance. He released his debut album Remnant of a Winter Sun this past January, through Alpha Pup Records. Before that, the young talent was hanging out with modern jazz icons like Austin Peralta and the duo J*Davey.

Before releasing the debut, Zack wrote pieces for Vice, Stussy, AND was performing in big shot venues like Low End Theory. Now, he’s studying at Yale University (yes, freaking YALE!) 3,000 miles away from home, and with all the work that they presumably give you at Yale, he still found time to release a brilliant album. The kid is talented. “Debautchery” off of Remnant of a Winter Sun features Brainfeeder’s virtuoso Thundercat, and premiered on XLR8R before the release of the album. Check it out:

Do you know other artists working to define a new space between jazz and electronic music? Share their music in the comments below!

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Noor Kalouti

Noor is a DJ, writer, and general internet enthusiast. She has a passion for discovering new music and new people, and writing about them so everyone can share in the love. Sharing is caring. The internet is beautiful thing. Noor wants musicians of all kinds to have the resources to move forward with their dreams. When she is not Instragraming shows, or DJing them, she enjoys philosophical conversation with some lavender tea. Listen to her mixes at https://soundcloud.com/nooshhh.

  • Naja Naja

    Great list! Lionmilk and Zack are new to me. I bet you’d also dig DJ Harrison, who dropped a mixtape with DJ Shadow’s label last year: https://soundcloud.com/liquidambermusic/dj-harrison-songs-from-the-black-water-snippet-mix-1

    I’m a music producer with kind of an odd jazz-influenced electronic sound that I think would suit your taste as well – https://soundcloud.com/najanaja/sets/snakejazz

    My email is [email protected], would love to hear from you!

  • TwoTrue

    See Also: The entire catalog of the label Ninja Tune, through the 90’s and in to the 2000’s

  • Inki Fusó

    Nice list, but where is Bugge Wasseltoft?

  • disqus_rFxUzEkqDF

    How about J’owl out of Seattle? Cyberpunk Jazz. Improvised saz over improvised electronic beats.
    http://soundcloud.com/jowlsounds

  • Lucas Benjamin

    LEGOVE is one of Holland’s best kept secrets!
    https://soundcloud.com/legove/trecna

  • TheFirstUniverseKing

    Shaka the Shocker (me) is another artist that mixes electronic music with jazz (and other genres).

    https://soundcloud.com/creepypasta/a-detailed-explanation-of-how-the-magic-diedthe-new-incarnation-rising-from-carnations

  • Jack Flex

    Love the Article! I have embarked on a simlar journey of creating Jazz/Electronic Fusion Check out my Newly Released “Ying” Album for my take on the Jazz Electronic Blends. https://soundcloud.com/jackflex/sets/ying
    JackFlex.com

    • Adam Tenenbaum

      very cool. elastic!

  • Adam Tenenbaum

    Check out Giant Metal Crickets. All based around heavily-treated guitar improvisations: https://soundcloud.com/giantmetalcrickets/harpy-in-the-sun

  • Tachymètre

    It’s very interesting to read about how jazz had been used by electronic artists to further their musical direction.

    I want to share my thoughts on where electronics has used by certain types of jazz artists. I’m not referring to electric-jazz fusion (e.g. the use of an electric bass or piano in jazz) or nu-jazz (a more modern extension of that), rather the more experimental side of merging the two sound pallets.

    Firstly, definitions. I’m sure some will argue that these jazz artists don’t play jazz to start with but are playing improvised, avant-garde, free, etc music. So for the sake of simplicity, let’s agree that jazz here refers to the use of traditionally jazz ensemble instruments (sax, trumpet, piano, double bass) and these musicians are largely rooted in the jazz idiom. Likewise, the same can be said about the electronics here: these examples are not EDM, DnB or Trap, but let’s see electronics as instruments (boxes with knobs, maybe keys, and powered by electricity) and software. Without this baseline we will create an infinite loop and never get to the music.

    I’ve tried to find examples where electronics was equally prominent in the music and not just there to accent the instrument (e.g. playing a trumpet through an effects rack) and ideally provide links for both listening and buying.

    I have to start with Evan Parker. Not only a significant creator of improvised saxophone music, but he has been a major force in merging with electronics, in particular with the Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble on the ECM record label.

    http://www.last.fm/music/Evan+Parker+Electro-Acoustic+Ensemble

    He continues to work with many electronic artists and push the boundaries of his sound, such as

    Trance Map with Matt Wright
    https://soundcloud.com/free-range/evan-parker-matt-wright

    Black Top #Two
    https://babel-label.bandcamp.com/album/two-with-special-guest-evan-parker

    If you want something with a more melodic bent, Craig Taborn’s use of electronics winds seamlessly into the jazz structure, such as Junk Magic on the excellent Thirsty Ear label:
    http://www.last.fm/music/Craig+Taborn/Junk+Magic

    While he has also plays in Tim Berne’s Hard Cell, which has released a number of albums in which Taborn’s electronics play equal part to his piano.
    http://www.last.fm/music/Tim+Berne%27s+Hard+Cell

    Another melodic interplay is Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith’s A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke: Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith – Passages

    And then there is the abstract atonal side of when both genres merge, and it would be remiss not to highlight a few recordings, if this is the side of the bread you like buttered:

    Ken Vandermark / Nate Wooley / Ikue Mori / Paul Lytton – The Nows
    https://cleanfeed-records.com/product/the-nows/

    Frank Gratkowski / Simon Nabatov / Marcus Schmickler – Deployment
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/deployment/id418100302

    Dominic Lash & Martin Hackett – Bristol Meeting
    https://dominiclash.bandcamp.com/album/bristol-meeting

    Finally, we have to get to the noise artists. It’s a natural fit for the more abrasive free jazz musicians to pair with noise artists: both have a high energy that fills the sonic spectrum, with electronics bringing a different timbre to the jazz instruments.

    Merzbow / Gustafsson / Pandi – Cuts
    http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/merzbow-gustafsson-pandi

    Fire Room – Broken Music
    https://soundcloud.com/ken-vandermark/when-water-burns-air

    Dave Rempis / Lasse Marhaug – Naancore
    https://aerophonicrecords.bandcamp.com/album/naancore

    As you can imagine, this is not even touching the surface, leaving out: Made To Break, Full Blast, Ballister, many duos with Lasse Marhaug, and of course the entire discography of the venerable Ikue Mori – but enough to hopefully see that as jazz has found its way into electronic music, so too has it been the other way.

    • Jeremy Royal Edit

      Hi there Tachymètre,
      This list you shared speaks my language. For close to three years I was the right hand man for William and Patricia Parker in programming and administering the Vision Festival in New York City. In fact, you’ve anticipated a forthcoming article featuring a handful of these musicians so I’m sure we exist in similar circles. Lasse Marhaug’s work with magnetic tape, especially alongside free improvising musicians is some of the most compelling I’ve heard. And of course, what Pedro Costa has done out in Lisbon with Clean Feed, to allow these artists a platform for releasing deeply expressionistic works incorporating free improv/electronic and instrumental collaboration and stuff like chance-composition is exceptional for the scene.

      I wanted to thank you for bringing the avant-garde/improvised scene into this discussion. As an editor at Flypaper, I will say that it’s improbable we’ll go back and change published information to reflect further thoughts on the subject however we do regard each article as an open dialogue on the topic it covers to the degree of using it as a jumping off point for further thought and writing. With that in mind, would you be willing to write for us? If you’re interested in tackling subjects of your choosing, in an educational/actionable voice, please email me at [email protected].

      Stay tuned for a forthcoming piece on classical music and digital processing by the way! Take care and thanks again for sharing your thoughts.
      Jeremy

      • Yigru Zeltil

        Electronics and improvisation or avant-jazz, good thing someone brought it up here. In some moods I don’t mind FlyLo and such (how is Mndsgn any different from FlyLo or Teebs?) at all, but that’s not where the spirit of jazz is truly lurking. Nu-jazz and glitch-hop are fine, not saying I’m a purist, but they’re not really improvised music.

        Speaking of Pedro Costa and Clean Feed, Rafael Toral ought to deserve a bit of coverage too. And he’s more accesible too than what one can usually hear on the harsh no-nonsense electro-acoustic improvisation scene, like Axel Dörner, Franz Hautzinger, the “Onkyo” group… oh wait, there’s also the stuff on the (likewise Portuguese!) label Creative Sources, by Ernesto Rodrigues and his collaborators. Usually more familiar textural improv, but “Erosions”, “All About Mimi” and at least several other albums I’d recommend for listeners who are into EAI.

  • Miguel Toro
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