Open Your Ears

I often look down the genre column of my iTunes music library, and I’m sometimes surprised by the labels which pop up. One which keeps cropping up lately is “acid jazz”.

Although I know which of my music carries the label, it seemed to encompass such a wide variety of music that I set out to learn what musical elements tied these tracks together into a genre.

What is “Acid Jazz”?

Acid Jazz Musical GenreLike so many others, the acid jazz genre is really a fusion of various different genres. It blends together many different dance genres from different eras, particularly jazz, funk and hip-hop. However, the influences also include soul, house, disco, and jungle. The sound originated in the UK in the 80s and 90s, originally named after a record label called “Acid Jazz”.

What I find most interesting about acid jazz is the sheer variety of music and artists that manage to fall into this category.

Let’s look at some examples which show how diverse the genre really is…

The Brand New Heavies – Sometimes

A good early example of acid jazz. This shares obvious similarities to soul and funk, with strong funk bass lines and rhythms and soul-style vocals.

Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity

The piano lays down a strong jazz harmony and rhythm from the start. However the guitar and bass again more resemble funk, and the vocals have a catchy pop feel to them.

Bonobo – Days to Come

This track has a much more modern sound, but still manages to share a lot of the same qualities discussed already. There is a jazz groove throughout, strengthened by the use of particular instruments: brass and plucked strings. The track is more mellow than the first two but seems to have very similar influences.

The Cat Empire – Two Shoes

This track shares some qualities with ska music (namely the strong off-beat), but you can also hear some similarities to hip-hop. It has a samba feel (particularly near the middle of the track) and features jazz instrumentation throughout.

So “Acid Jazz” is…

Well, it seems to me that acid jazz is a term used for music that mixes together a wide variety of live dance styles. Here “live” means not electronic, contrasting it with the majority of dance music which uses mostly synthesised electronic instruments.

I find this genre very exciting as it has so much scope for development. It allows itself to be a mixing pot of different genres from different eras and different nationalities – all somehow moulded together into a cohesive and satisfying whole.

Can you find any music in your collections that fit this description? Or do you see acid-jazz as something completely different? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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