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The New Cool: Producers Out Front

How can anyone know what all these knobs do?
Abe Beeson
This is an instrument, too - dig the production geniuses of modern jazz on The New Cool!

Music producers have traditionally been behind the scenes, but this week's New Cool brings new releases from three multi-talented knob-twisters and fader-riders getting a lot of attention recently. Now to be sure, these three are multi-instrumentalists. But, like Ellington, Basie and all the big band leaders, they have their minds focused on the sound of the group first.

Toshio Matsuura is well-known for pioneering the "nu-jazz" movement in the early 90s with the United Future Organization. The music is based in electronica and trip-hop soundscapes, but heavily influenced by jazz.

The new release, Loveplaydance, reunites Matsuura with his UK-based DJ/producer friend Gilles Peterson, who gets much of the credit for the exploding modern jazz scene in England. These two conceived this new album, a collection of covers of favorite electro-jazz club jams. The musical direction for the project is led by Tom Skinner, drummer for modern jazz stars Sons of Kemet and also leader of his own new project, Hello Skinny.

Exploring the threads connecting the modern club music of Japan and the UK, the Toshi Matsuura Group ventures between live, played instruments, and the possibilities found in laptops and samplers.

On the New Cool this weekend you'll hear the lone original piece on the album, "L.M. II", with live instruments (Skinner's drums, Tom Herbert's bass, and keys played by Danalogue) settling into a hypnotic groove that rolls through dynamics like waves on the ocean. Appropriately, the official video for the song is a thrilling retro-animation piece. Like the music, it's creative and familiar, but shiny like a new dime.

The Waxidermist is the nom-de-production of bassist, DJ and producer Sebastien Charpiot, also known as Lawkyz. This newest identity emerged last Winter with the Waxidermist EP The Snow, and the new full-length release The Origami Case has just been released.

Various vocalists - rappers and singers - guest on the album, along with live guitar, keys, percussion and the occasional flute solo. Along with Charpiot's bass, the main creative tool is a computer. Hip hop beats dominate the proceedings, similar in sound to Toronto's BadBadNotGood, but with the addition of punchy horn samples and subtle turntablism.

Saturday's New Cool will feature the lead track from the new album, "A New Dawn". The sound is heavily influenced by jazz, but this is instrumental hip hop production with very little improvisation. Follow the beat, though, and the song opens up a million possibilities in the listener's mind. A stage has been set, much like the modal jazz of Miles Davis, for subtle interjections on guitar, vibraphone, scratching records, and your imagination.

An even closer connection to the world of hip hop, conceptually anyway, comes from the new album by Texas-native Sylvester Onyejiaka, aka Sly5thAve. A graduate of the jazz factory at the University of North Texas, he's a talented saxophone player with a love of musical exploration. His collaborations range from Prince to Dave Brubeck to Gladys Knight and most of the Marsalis family, but Sly5thAve's love of hip hop has inspired this latest project.

The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre honors the musical legacy of the co-founder and producer for iconic LA rap group NWA. Equally inspired by Ralph Ellison's literary examination of American racism, The Invisible Man, Sly5thAve wanted to address current conditions in America. "I thought more about how Dre's early work was geared towards people who were ignored or forgotten."

Strings abound on the tribute album from last Fall, but the core of each song is the beat. On this weekend's New Cool you'll hear Snarky Puppy keys player Corey Henry soloing on Moog synth on a dramatic cover of Dre's massive mid-90s hit with 2Pac Shakur, "California Love".

This is a jazz piece drawn from the world of hip hop, a cover song and an homage to the music that informs more and more of modern jazz today. The crisp, digital production also owes a debt to the polished sounds of modern hip hop and r&b.

Sly5thAve's jazz credibility is bolstered by years working with top jazz musicians in New York City and beyond, including the Snarky Puppy spin-off band Ghost Note. KNKX recently caught Onyejiaka blowing his sax with the band at the Victoria Jazz Festival, and with the two drummers leading the band, the beat drives the music.

Also upcoming on the New Cool Saturday, you'll hear a song from the mid-90s debut by producer/DJ Ludovic Navarre (aka St Germain). I'll play a Freddie Hubbard cover from the new Kamasi Washington release Heaven and Earth, as well as cool jams from Northwest favorites Polyrhythmics and Velocity. Connect to the New Cool page at this website, and follow us on Facebook for more modern jazz fun as it happens!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.