Ah, Jazz. If ever there was a genre that I have struggled to get into, it’s this one. Several times I have established and then culled a fairly healthy Jazz collection. I have had beautifully looking walls of Impulse spines, the hipster approved Miles’ essential electric period, artists like Monk, Sanders, Taylor, Mingus, Coleman and others pass through my collection. The last time I swore I would not be buying anymore. Why? Simply because on a whole, the music just doesn’t register with me. There are pieces that I still can think of and enjoy (like the title track to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”), but I have realised that no matter how much I have listened to or bought, it’s just not for me.
So you could imagine a certain reticence when the press release for n5MD’s latest release, the debut for Parisian multi instrumentalist Axel Rigaud featured the word “Jazz” in it. The label has this to say: “Rigaud’ s style as a whole is the exploration of the crossroads of arresting analog electronic music and elevated ambient jazz. By blending steady bottomed analog synth arpeggios, shuffling beats and swirling Jazz influenced reed instruments, Rigaud makes the juxtapositional a compelling and interwoven whole. Only a few moments on the album does one genre eclipse another. Even when this happens one finds that the sax or flute are being electronically manipulated or the electronics have that all to special swing.”
The test for me personally, with my history listed above, is whether or not with my aversion to the genre will I enjoy this album, or will my previous history with the style be to much of a challenge. Lets find out.
“New Land” instantly sounding on par with label mate bvdub in the electronics department, Rigaud sets about infusing his down tempo electronica with subtle flute drones, warped dubby bass lines, smatters of percussion before the jazz influence really kicks in. Layers of brass are used more as just a part of the sound pallet before taking over in the second half of the track and exerting a more noticeable jazz influence. An audible factor is how they work well with the electronics, as even when they are at their most fluid there is no real separation – ie: it doesn’t sound like electronics with jazz on the top, the two styles are quiet seamless.
“Perception” sees long layered drones emerge and hang before wistfully retreating and being replaced by the next progression. The drones feel like a combination of electronics, ambience and a light jazz feel – predominantly on the weight of them. A bed of percussion, from broken beats, off-kilter percussion and bass beats leads through a section of echoic ambience and synth explorations before the beats make a triumphant return, sounding somewhat more organic this time around. The music has a shuffling feel to it, which is probably brought about by the percussion and way that it interchanges between ambient and beat driven sections.
“Dare” dark-ish rolling drones with a stormy quality meets layers of interlocking flute before the most dance orientated beats kick in. Both the beats and flute share the same qualities as neither go over the top, there is a certain restraint noticeable in both of them. A looped broken down electronics sections leads through to an ambient breakdown before saxophone and a slower, clipped beat shuffles through the broken electronics. Synth and flute merge together creating melodic lines over a synth bass line and micro beats, before the track once more is propelled forwards with the dance orientated beats. This time the music comes along for the ride.
“Solitude” bubbling murky electronics, the vibration of the reed and brass drones create a smoky, dimly lit vibe. For the first time you feel like you have moved out of the chill out room into a jazz club familiar from the classic black and white photos of the 50’s and 60’s. That’s not to say that this is a pure Jazz track. It actually sounds like an Ambient /Drone track that utilizes brass instruments to provide its (lack of) color. The track is quite moody and emotion filled with a certain amount of despair coming through. Not too melancholic, but far from being a happy piece of music.
“Ice Bridge” ever-growing electronics, ambience and tones coated in static fuse together to create a very brief piece that you would expect to act as an intro to a propulsive track. However that is not the case. The track sounds like highly oscillating electronics that create a kaleidoscope of colors that are jostling around. If this track acted like an intro to another one it would for me, make more sense, but as a standalone piece due to its brevity and the rest of the albums style, it doesn’t really fit.
“Rush” a hazy synth soaked track that feels like all the restraint that has been exhibited thus far has exploded out. The beats while skittering around set the tone for the test of the instrumentation to catch up to. The electronics are woozy, wonky, dubby and often at obscure angles. The drones are short stabs of Synths, almost like quick horn lines. The most IDM orientated track on the album eschews the jazz influence of previous tracks and shows Rigaud as a fan of the classic IDM fabric.
“Totem” now that the propulsive beats have been unleashed, Rigaud sets about bringing his two styles together in a track that opens with a sax flurry before heading into that dubby territory that brings to mind releases on the ~scape label. The flute and saxophone act as both lead and as signpost instruments. The track effortlessly flows between styles as the instrumentation chops and changes. At no point does the listener feel like its small sections being put together as blocks of sound. Rather the track feels like a consistent journey that could easily be twice the length and not become boring. The water/squelchy sounds also add to the dub feel that is the heart of the track.
“Direct Future” with this track Rigaud reveals his club influences are strong with the hypnotic synth lines, hand claps, dub pulses, jazz drumming sounding like a time machine trip through different eras of dance music history. The Synths and how they expand and pulse are the heroes of the piece as they act like a magnet attracting the others elements towards them. As they grow, so do the other elements of the track.
“Unexpected Victory” an interesting detour is taken on this, the final track. While the album has been slowly heading from Jazzier and Chill Out confines towards the dance floor, this track takes a 180° turn into more atmospheric and cinematic tones. Largely drone based, the music is an ever-moving piece that leads towards the darkness with icy tones lining up alongside darker Synths with tiny blink and you’ll miss it snatches of melody. While not fitting in with the more beat and Jazz orientated pieces, it does offer another side to the artist that in future releases may be explored more. Afterall, Rigaud is a graduate of the Paris Conservatory, so what we have heard on his debut album could be the tip of the musical iceberg.
So, after my initial concerns about the Jazz” elements to this release, I can safely say that any fears have been allayed. The influence of Jazz is undoubtedly there, after all Rigaud began learning Saxophone at the young age of 6, but its the way in which he infuses his conservatorium training with contemporary styles that bring about compositions that feel well-rounded and complimentary. You don’t get one impression about Rigaud as an artist because there are multiple styles and influences going on throughout the album. What you do get is a look into the future possibilities of his music – and it looks like to be an interesting journey. “Transformation” is available on CD/Vinyl/Digital.