Angry Robot


I’m no jazz expert but I did take a lil’ course in university and one thing that stuck with me was the definition of jazz that the prof gave us: the blending of European harmony with African rhythms. There was nothing about improvisation.

I’ve continued listening to jazz since that course (you go to see some live shows and drink some sangria and realize, hey this is really fun, despite the knock on it that it’s just for middle-aged white guys now). As the saying goes, I listen to a lot of stuff, but a personal staple is electronic music, and it struck me a while ago that the definition of jazz applies equally to that genre.

The biggest stumbling block for people is that jazz emphasizes improvisiation and live performance, whereas electronic music is traditionally a recorded art. But that has changed with time. Software like Ableton Live and various live-performance hardware tools, and the coordination of elaborate visuals, have made electronic music more and more performative. On the flip side I can think of a few jazz releases of the past few years that were very much studio albums (say, Takuya Kuroda’s Rising Son).

Two recent electronic releases have really cemented that: Aphex Twin’s Syro and Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead. The Aphex Twin album is very much a studio production but the palette is all polyrhythm meets jazz harmonics. Looking into the FlyLo album I see Herbie Hancock played keys on much of it, and Flying Lotus’ aunt is Alice Coltrane (John Coltrane’s wife, who played piano with him).

People may think jazz is dead. Those same people may listen to these albums and not even think about jazz. But it’s still there, maybe moreso than ever.