In the past, jazz used to be what hip hop or rock are today, which is to say, a mass market, pop culture, and socially relevant genre of music. It survived and remained vital for so long because it kept changing and incorporating elements of other music. However, now jazz has become an element that's incorporated into other types of music. It certainly still exists as its own genre just as blues and reggae do but they, too, are mostly perceived by modern music listeners as elements to add to other kinds of music. Or, at the very least, niche music for small audiences.
During the 80s and 90s, when jazz fusion had burnt itself out and jazz traditionalism had come into prominence, some predicted a new jazz fusion using elements of hip hop and/or electronic music. While this may have happened in some cases, it never really became a thing, so to speak. In fact, what typically happens is the opposite: non-jazz artists sometimes incorporate jazz into their music. This can take the form of anything from the subtle jazz touches on some albums by The Roots or Tortoise to full-on hybrids like Q-Tip's Kamaal The Abstract. In all these cases, however, the jazz part noticeably calls attention to itself, such that you aren't hearing an entirely new style of music so much as you are hearing someone make obvious jazz references.
By that standard, one of the most interesting and unique examples of jazz added to another genre is Squarepusher's Music Is Rotted One Note. It's the sort of record I find myself returning to when I feel burnt out and bored with music, that dreaded “I've heard it all before” sentiment. This album reminds me that there is still a lot of possibilities left: its dark atmosphere and production style feel more akin to something by Burial yet it is arguably Tom Jenkinson's most successful attempt at using his virtuoso bass playing and talent with live drums in an electronic context. The result is something that doesn't sound like jazz, electronic music, or even an electronic musician playing with jazz sounds or tropes.
Music Is Rotted One Note transcends genre labels. There's a seemingly formless, improvised abstraction to the record as a whole, and specifically tracks like 'Circular Flexing', which makes use of rhythmic and melodic elements but never in traditional rhythmic or melodic ways. The drum beats, even the live/non-sampled ones, seem chopped up and edited, as on the stuttering 'Ill Descent.' Meanwhile, chords and riffs on organs have a sound heavily evocative of Miles Davis's late 60s-to-mid-70s electric/fusion sound while also retaining their own feel, half of the time employed for dreamy and atmospheric effect and the other half of the time as punctuations and accents for drum beats or Jenkinson's (sometimes) rapid fire bass lines.
Even with some relatively accessible songs, like 'My Sound', Music Is Rotted One Note defies easy digestion and understanding. It's a record which has no “ah ha!” moment, has no hooks; I'll be damned if, an hour or so after hearing it, I can hum any of the melodies. Nothing about it is easy or obvious yet unlike most difficult or challenging music, its appeal is immediate. It remains a fascinating listen, one that I appreciate more every time I come back to it.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5