Thesound of jazz is changing. Suddenly he on the threshold of a new way of hearing the music. More and more albums have credits for mysterious tasks such as 'Sequencing', 'Programming', 'Sampling' or 'Electronics'. And without anyone really noticing, the improviser's art is being played out against a new sonic backdrop coloured by fragments of electronic sounds, rhythms and sampling running through the music. Amid this world of altered realities and fresh possibilities, digital computer editing — literally 'cutting and pasting' sound — allows for juxtapositions never dreamed about in Charlie Parker's day. Just as important, the technology, needed to achieve this has now become relatively inexpensive so the bedroom can now becoming a recording studio. Jazz musicians have a new set of tools to mould and shape sound and are recontextualising jazz. Potentially, it's the most exciting development for decades.
With much of jazz still in thrall to 1950s hard-bop, the move towards a broader sound spectrum has come not a moment
too soon. In this IT age, we are bombarded daily by digital technology at home and work and in the car, so it should come as no surprise that jazz musicians are seeking to reflect this in their music, Jazz has always adapted to and been shaped by technological as much as cultural and social forces. Billie Holiday's art would have been impossible without the electric microphone, for example, while Sidney Bechet famously recorded clarinet, soprano, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums on his 'one man band' recording of 'The Sheik of Araby' in April 1941, courtesy of available technology.
When the LP broke through the threeminute barrier of the old 78 rpm disc, a new world opened up for the improviser and composer, so the notion of jazz interacting with technological advance is hardly new. Today, the only limits in adapting to 21st-century recording technology are those of man's imagination.
As jazz became more fascinated with its past, it slowly undid its relationship with the present. This preoccupation with older forms of jazz meant that jazz became less and less able to reflect the tensions, emotions, anxiety and complexity of modernday living. But after almost two decades of retro-jazz, things are changing. 'I'm so tired of all the backward looking that goes on in jazz right now,' says the Luxembourg trumpeter Gast Waltzing. 'The original innova tors were just that They took influences from everything that was around them and didn't try to sound exactly like anyone else. Jazz is a living music, it doesn't belong in the past. It needs to move on.'
Waltzing incorporates the latest electronic technology into his new album Largo: Fables of Lost Time. A professor of trumpet at Luxembourg Conservatory and head of the jazz department there, he is, on the face of it, an unlikely radical. But he has always maintained a parallel career as a jazz musician and, like many European jazz musicians, has become impatient with the American jazz scene.
Since the late Miles Davis was frequently a catalyst for change in the music, Waltzing's new album toys with the concept of what Davis might have done had he been around today (he died in 1991). It opens with the Doors' 'Riders On the Storm' — Davis was never afraid to borrow from pop culture — and is a refreshing statement that sounds as if it were made in 2003 and not 1963. Using the latest technology, Waltzing's music moves in new and unexpected directions. It reflects how electronics, in all its manifestations, is now being used as a catalyst to trigger change in jazz, to reimagine the overall architecture of the music in a way that reflects the world in which we live today.
Gast Waltzing will be launching Largo: Fables of Lost Time (Warner Bros. 5050466-4082-2-8) at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London W1 on 20 May.