Some years ago, a couple of friends and I coined the term ‘a bit jazz’ to mean a heavy session. We’d use it to describe the partying habits of the bands we liked (we were very big on Primal Scream in those days), as well as some of our larger weekends. And weeks. And months for that matter. The term came from jazz musicians, rather than jazz music, the Charlie Parker whose corpse was mistaken for that of a fifty-four, rather than thirty-four, year old man.
Philistinism? Sure. But there is something in jazz music, in its rhythms and time signatures that suggest a fluidity or absence of discipline. It’s a paradox of course, it takes an awful lot of skill to sound this loose. We deluded ourselves that it took similar skill to make a Friday night last three days.
Skill is something that Daniel Jacobson has in spades. A classically trained jazz musician, he applies the form of jazz to electronic music and does so wonderfully. His new album, recorded under the alias ZoID, has just been released on the Invisible Agent label. Calling it Selected ZoIDworks 05-12 is an obvious nod to a certain well regarded twenty-odd year old album, but it almost does it a disservice. ZoID’s album has no need to lurk in the shadows of any other. It’s a perfectly balanced and wonderfully controlled blend of beats, glitches and textures on a bed of jazzy rhythms, put together with superb artistic restraint.
Opening track Aerosoul sets the standard. It’s a smooth, nocturnal jazz piece, boasting a gently snaking guitar melody. Next, the chiming, insistent Phroph brings beats to the fore. They’re crisp and satisfying but without overpowering the gentle ambient synth bed.
Acid Leaves, which features the late Bruce Morley is more rhythmically violent, lurching from acid breaks to classical guitar in what can probably be best described [by me] as a ‘space invader sound stew’. Particle Dither throws jagged but squelchy beats at a heavy synth sound. Both win.
Obelisk brings the guitar back to face off against a frantic, echoey beat that seems to swirl around it. Cember is nice and glitchy. Beats whiplash, crunch and clatter while a pulsating rhythm builds beneath them.
East Pier Early Morning is more traditionally metronomic. An ambient piece with tight beats layered on top, it sounds simple at first, but only at first. Like the rest of the album it benefits from the skilful discipline of its maker.
Jwrong begins beautifully with plaintive whine that is soon joined by jazzy drums that clatter and tumble through the rest of the track.
Bluesqueek earned double figure listens within the first few hours of my having the album. Beginning with dampened beats, like a heart that is about to break, it blends a squelchy sound with cleaner synthesiser tones in a perfectly judged mix.
The beginning of Munch is, for me, the album’s sole misstep. A burst of distorted static noise, it’s a collection of glitchy sound effects that create a sense of violence that is at odds with the rest of the album. It settles after a couple of minutes and reaches a stronger sense of purpose, letting the album finish with its signature mix of beats and ambient synths.
This album is a real joy. The odd time signatures add a pleasingly unsteady organic quality that complements the crisp artificial beats. The album’s main strength, aside from its talented maker, is that it uses jazz to contextualise its electronic elements. I’ve long had a problem with the term ‘dance music’ as a catch-all for anything electronic, not least because you can’t even dance to music like this. Jazz, with its tendencies towards experimentation and rule-breaking is a much better home. SZw05-12 shows us why. It’s ‘a bit jazz’, in a rather better sense of the word that I had it before.