May 2000 By Christopher Porter
It all begins in the drums. It’s the heart of jazz, beating and pushing blood into all the limbs: the bass, the piano, the horns all become alive because of the beat. From Cozy Cole, Gene Krupa, Kenny Clarke, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Max Roach to Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Sunny Murray, Milford Graves, Paul Motian and Jack DeJohnette, the drummer and his rhythms are as integral to the transformation of music as any harmonic theories.
Cornetist Graham Haynes talks about some of today’s freshest beats with Greg Tate on page 66, with heavy emphasis on the genre known as drum ’n’ bass, which might not be familiar to many jazz fans—yet.
“Drum ’n’ bass is the mutant mish-mash of hip-hop, house, techno and reggae that was spawned in Britain’s hardcore rave scene in the early ’90s,” says Simon Reynolds, author of 1998’s Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture. “[Drum ’n’ bass producers] used the same sampled breakbeats from old ’70s funk records that hip-hop producers used, but accelerated them and got into ever more complicated computer editing and resequencing of the beats, so that eventually they were basically building new beats altogether out of single hits—full of hyper-syncopated snares and intricate hi-hat patterns. Basically, the drum patterns became so memorable and melodic they became the hooks, or the lead voices, on the records.
“Although a lot of drum ’n’ bass producers are influenced by jazz—or claim to be—it’s more on the level of textural coloring and washes of sound, and a certain bittersweet or plangent kind of chord change,” Reynolds explains. “A lot of musicians feel it’s the first of the digitized dance music that actually has enough musicality to provide an adequate forum for live improvisation,” says Tate, whose profile of Haynes is his first piece for JazzTimes. A staff writer at the Village Voice and writer-at-large for Vibe, Tate is currently collecting a new book of his essays, working on a sci-fi novel, Altered Spades, and readying the release of his first CD, Blood on the Leaf, on his truGROID label by his Bitches Brew-inspired ensemble, Burnt Sugar.
Drum ’n’ bass is influencing a growing number of jazz artists who are incorporating the style’s frenzied but catchy mix of African, Caribbean and Brazilian polyrhythms into their own music. “A lot of drummers find drum ‘n’ bass very invigorating because it has a popular appeal but it is musically demanding,“ Tate says.
There is artistry in those rhythms.
Originally published in May 2000