The dance music definition of “jazz” tends to be very different from the jazz listener definition of “jazz.”
For the latter, the music prizes melodic innovation and creative solo flights. (I’m simplifying things greatly, of course, for purposes of contrast.) But for people in the dance world, particularly in urban America, “jazz” often signifies fusion or disco-friendly styles—as Paul Oakenfold put it in a recent interview, “not proper jazz, but jazz-funk.” That stuff, from the 70s and ‘80s, was largely played in the context of other disco and funk records, well bypassing the Down Beat canon and inserting it into a very different one. And as disco became the foundation of house and techno, the jazz that accompanied it followed suit.
Kerri Chandler knows a thing or two about slipping between and tying together musical worlds. Before his career as a deep-house producer took off, the East Orange, New Jersey-bred Chandler made hip-hop beats, working with future major-label rapper Chino XL. He’s long made smooth-going-down eclecticism a hallmark of his DJ sets. This October, he released a volume of the Studio K7 label’s DJ-Kicks series, a showcase for his roots: early hip-hop (T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”), disco (Sylvia Striplin’s “You Can’t Turn Me Away”), and of course jazz—the set is bookended by tracks from Leroy Hutson and Roy Ayers.
But jazzy as the DJ-Kicks is, Chandler’s RA Live at Brilliant Corners, London (October 17, 2017) takes that tendency all the way: it’s nearly two hours of the stuff, and it hangs together beautifully. In fact, let’s go further: It’s the definitive primer of the jazz that DJs love even if jazzbos don’t. It helps that Chandler salts things here and there. Tracks like the British production duo Chicken Lips’ percussive Afro-fusion “Man in His Element” (which enters the mix around minute six), Serge Gainsbourg’s thriller-soundtrack title song “La Horse” (minute 31), and Fela Kuti’s definitive “Shakara” (minute 52) act as glue, not diversions—and as reminders of just how central jazz’s fingerprints are to all kinds of music in all kinds of places.
Chandler’s selections are segued together rather than mixed, but that doesn’t mean he leaves the traditional tools of DJing behind. Take the treatment he gives Kamasi Washington’s “Truth” (which begins around the 1:20:30 mark). Letting it spread out over ten minutes (the actual track is 13 minutes long), Chandler gives it some EQ action early on—isolating the high end for a few moments in order to milk the contrast between the sax and the rhythm section, or maybe just showing the scene through the scrim of a differently colored filter. The case he makes for this sort of jazz as its own bountiful stream is so convincing that I usually don’t mind that he finishes with some oleaginous Al Jarreau vocalese—and when I do, I can always just hit stop.
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.