A New Era of Jazz
Nu Jazz, otherwise known as Jazztronica, Future Jazz, Electro Jazz, or e-Jazz, is an umbrella term for the latest subgenre of jazz to erupt onto the musical soundscape.
With jazz music coming in and out of vogue in a seemingly endless cycle, nu jazz is the latest popular reincarnation of jazz for the new generation entering the scene and has even seen itself become an significant influence of modern day top 40’s radio hits. But what really is Nu Jazz?
Originating in the 1990s, Nu Jazz's heavy influence was from the turntable based, sample-heavy, beat making techniques of hip hop of that era. Ambient post-rock guitar was also a prominent influence, however that has mostly faded with the exception of one of two bands.
Following in its older siblings’ footsteps, Nu Jazz takes the fundamentals of jazz music, modal jazz to a large degree, and combines it with the rhythms and forms of more contemporary, electric based styles of music, like hip hop and rock.
If you aren’t a huge fan of hip hop or rock, there could still be bands in this style that appeal to you, however. The nu jazz style is incredibly diverse and features groups that have many different perspectives on what modern jazz should sound like, and with the genre having been around for over two decades' worth of different takes, there is much discovery to be had for a new listener.
Chill/Hip Hop Style
One of the most unifying aspects of nu jazz is a chill, atmospheric, almost retro base. While there are bands that can be classified as Nu Jazz that have a noticeably more aggressive style, such as the band Kneebody, the broad assessment would see that the majority of nu jazz is more focused on using relatively simple drum beats. In addition, these beats are overlaid with similarly simple but pretty melodies that are supported by fresh harmonies. While not the oldest band on the nu jazz scene, BADBADNOTGOOD is a Canadian band made up of jazz students who took their mutual love of jazz and hip hop and, with their first few albums, made what I would consider the epitome of this chill, atmospheric side of Nu Jazz.
Influence On the Mainstream
One of the most impressive aspects of Nu Jazz is its effect on the current popular music heard on the radio, and in particular with this new breed of indie pop that is rising in popularity. Artists such as Billie Eilish, and by extension her songwriter/brother Finneas, as well as NIKI and even Arianna Grande all have songs that you can tie to Nu Jazz influence.
Instrumentation and their function in their songs is particularly telling. For example, if you were to listen to “Indigo” by NIKI, one can hear similarly hyper compressed, crunchy bass and ornamentation lines, and in Billie’s latest hit “my future”, the familiar sound of a nu jazzy style Rhodes type keyboard can be heard supporting her vocals before transitioning into a drum sample sounding beat that sounds extremely reminiscent of something that would be off of a Nujabes album from 2005.
The most direct influence however, has been the music put out by bass guitarist Thundercat. Not only has he influenced other big name artists with his own original albums, but because of those albums he has gone on to directly work with artists such as Childish Gambino, Shafiq Husayn, and Kendrick Lamar to name but a few.
Next Big Thing?
Jazz is an ever evolving sound. Decades ago it was Big Band music before transitioning to Bebop and Post-Bop, and now today Nu Jazz is all the rage with its marriage of jazz theory to hip hop grooves. While this is seeming to be just reaching the height of its popularity, it surely won’t last forever and one day there will be a new flavor of the decade. The question is, just what will that new sound be? What might be the next big thing?
Artists To Listen To
- Jaga Jazzist - One Armed Bandit
- Kneebody - Kneedelus with Daedelus
- Snarky puppy - Family Dinner - Vol. 1
- Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven - We’re New Again
- Szun Waves - New Hymn to Freedom
- Robert Glasper Experiment - Black radio
- The Comet Is Coming - Trust in the Deepforce of the Deep Mystery
- BADBADNOTGOOD - BBNG
- Keifer - Happysad
- Thundercat - Apocalypse
- Haitus Kayiote - Choose Your Weapon
- Nujabes - Modal Soul