Without tarnishing its origins, the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Hiatus Kaiyote, and more have been pushing the limit to slug the beat and revolutionise the production, even mutate their equipment to bolster an already boundless genre. As we wrap our heads around the fresh face of jazz, we’ve put together the pioneers to thank for the new decorations.
When Kendrick Lamar was recording To Pimp a Butterfly with Kamasi Washington, he couldn’t escape the transcendental imaginations. “I want it to sound like it’s on fire,” Washington said of Lamar’s thoughts to The Guardian. “That’s the kind of common ground that the best jazz and the best hip hop have.” What emerged was one of this century’s most intricate releases melding boutique jazz consciences together with contemporary design. It could be argued that To Pimp a Butterfly alone, completed altered the way jazz was interpreted. The rapper followed up with the less jazz-inflected LP, Damn, without evading the genre entirely – BadBadNotGood brought inspiration to ‘Lust’ while Washington assisted with string arrangements.
Master saxophonist and cultural luminary, Kamasi Washington is one of the most universally respected jazz artists. Not many musicians have traversed the bottomless crevasse between underground and mainstream like Washington – his ability to wrest the attention of jazz juveniles the defining factor. His music is catchy like a Drake hit without libelling jazz at its core. With his stellar 2015 LP, The Epic, at the top, Washington is ascending from foundations crafted by Miles Brown and John Coltrane. The sky’s the limit.
Proud jazz exponents implore the importance of impulsiveness to the genre. Players must respect the compositions whilst also showing an appetite to exceed the necessary. There aren’t many bands that enter stage left without an idea, let alone a setlist, to guide them through the next 60 minutes. Melbourne’s Swooping Duck pride their performances on complete improvisation. When they’re not backing Nai Palm as the rhythm section of Hiatus Kaiyote, the three-piece are blowing up bandrooms with artless intuition and infectious jams. Three instruments and that’s it, no vocals, no structure, no constraint – play on fellas.
He’s been regarded as a jazz and R&B renaissance man for his ability to modernise conventional jazz standards. Known for his profound collaborations, Glasper has enlisted the inspirations of everyone from Erykah Badu to Little Dragon and Lupe Fiasco on his work. Nevertheless, in 2016, Glasper retreated from the attention-grabbing partnerships that have become synonymous to his name and created his most grounded, introspective album yet alongside The Experiment. If there’s any studio release bearing Glasper’s futurism and eagerness to stretch the boundaries, it’s ArtScience – a rollercoaster of funk, jazz and R&B.
From upholding the traditional agelessness of jazz, to radicalising its entire identity. Ambitious electro pop outfit, Tetrahedra, have taken jazz foundations and immersed them with futuristic synths and melodies. There’s a pensiveness to their drum fills and an infectiousness to their bass lines that hark back to ageless schemes while their musical spontaneity is also reminiscent. As Tetrahedra sleep on a bed made by Jaco Pastorius, their dreams immerse the clouds with an effervescent pop shadow, just listen to ‘Everything’.
A collaborator’s dream, BadBadNotGood have lent their hip hop-rooted jazz inspirations to more artists than I can care to name. Kendrick, Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator are just the parmesan to the Bolognese. Now four albums deep, BadBadNotGood have found their niche in experimentation, in finding every crevice in the jazz songbook and re-enlivening it. Despite being their most musically restrained album, 2016’s IV wasn’t shy, granting the favours of a number of voices. For the first time, BBNG weren’t embellishing other’s works, others were embellishing theirs.
Every name on this list is ascending from their jazz bedrock through different channels. You’d be daft to categorise these artists into one or two genres, yet, there’s no collective as musically diverse as Hiatus Kaiyote. Neo, funk, soul, jazz, rock and what else combine to form an indescribable collective. Pioneered by the space-age Nai Palm, this quartet became the first Australian act to receive a Grammy nomination in an R&B category, for ‘Nakamarra’ from their debut album, Tawk Tomahawk and followed that up with their lauded sophomore LP, Choose Your Weapon.
Melbourne’s elusive progressive jazz outfit Krakatau would feel more at home performing in the depths of burgeoning volcano than on the stage of Splendour in the Grass or Falls Festival, such is their eerie, spacey design. Douse your airwaves with the minimalistic, moonlit jewel of their 2016 EP, Tharsis Montes/Apogean Tide, and flood back to eras of Grover Washington Jr and Herbie Hancock. Built on a modular basis, Krakatau inflect their music with an addictive nonchalance that harks back to the ‘70s. Both tracks, Tharsis Montes and Apogean Tide surpass nine minutes, but there’s an endurance to the rhythm that’ll have you gleefully starting over.
Fourteen years after the release of his critically acclaimed, jazz-laced album, Voodoo, and with plenty of hardship in between, would D’Angelo be compelled to stray from the anchor that spurred so much adversity? It seemed not as Black Messiah saw D’Angelo emerge strengthened and committed to cultivating the foundations he laid before. The 2014 album saw the recording artist mould funk, jazz, rock and gospel, harking back to the works of Marvin Gaye and Sly and the Family Stone. D’Angelo’s jazz influence stands apart from the rest of the artists on this list due to its trimmings of heartache and anguish.