DOMi and JD Beck + Herbie Hancock, “Moon” (Blue Note/Apeshit)
You have to love 21st-century jazz prodigies. They offer proof that those who proclaim “jazz is dead” simply have stopped exploring the genre with diligence and that this great American art form still has vitality and a promising future. One example of many in recent years are 22-year-old French keyboardist Domitille Degalle and 18-year-old Dallas, Texas drummer JD Beck. They look more like ’90s rave kids than jazz titans, and that makes their debut album, Not Tight, all the more of a shocking gift.
Signed to Anderson .Paak’s Apeshit label, the duo somehow persuaded Thundercat, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mac DeMarco, and keyboard legend Herbie Hancock to guest on their inaugural full-length—or maybe that’s .Paak’s clout in action. Whatever the case, it's enough to make anyone skeptical of DOMi and JD Beck's merits, but chops don’t lie. (They previously contributed to comedian/musician Eric André’s 2019 album Cease & Desist, which he recorded under the alias Blarf.) Beck hits skins with the quicksilver dexterity of a Squarepusher or Jack DeJohnette disciple; Degalle surely has a shelf or hard drive full of George Duke and Joe Zawinul albums in her abode. DOMi and JD Beck’s songs are light-footed, melodically sophisticated, and winsome, with drum & bass’ renegade snares and hip-hop’s funk infiltrating their obvious love of ’70s jazz fusion.
How DOMi and JD Beck maintained their composure with 82-year-old keyboard deity Hancock in the room remains a mystery, but they kept it together long enough to create an exciting update of smooth jazz. As the great man croons passionately through a vocoder about a precarious romantic situation and adds gorgeous, pointillistic piano filigrees, DOMi and Beck forge a lithe, cascading rhythmic foundation and velvety, pastel chord changes that swell and glow with Stevie Wonder-esque panache. It’s a meringue-light delight that’s somehow also built to last. Virtuosity is rarely this fun.
ZAZAZ, “Treatment” (ZAZAZ)
You could fill several planetariums with all of the musicians who sound as if they’re striving to make soundtracks—real or imaginary—for science-fiction films. Include Seattle trio ZAZAZ among that throng. There’s a reason this style is so popular and has never really waned since it launched in the late ’60s: It sounds freakin’ awesome.
But because of its near-ubiquity—at least in the underground scene, with Survive’s scores for the TV show Stranger Things a rare mainstream example—it’s difficult for this spacey music to stand out in the crowded field. ZAZAZ succeed through sheer imaginative power and the technical facility to manifest their good ideas. It’s as simple as that—and as complicated.
Consisting of former IQU member and ex-Stranger employee Michiko Swiggs (synth) and former Cobra High members Colin Roper (synth) and Justin Schwartz (drums), ZAZAZ released their eight-track debut album, Equinox, this summer on CD and MP3. They seem to have assimilated the stoic melodic grandeur, enigmatic atmospheres, and questing rhythms that elevated Germany to the summits of kosmische musik in the ’70s. If Klaus Schulze, Harald Grosskopf, and Tangerine Dream fire your imagination, you may enjoy the trip that ZAZAZ’s interstellar music takes you on.
One album highlight is LP-closer “Procession.” ZAZAZ initially construct a foreboding mood through an entropic synth motif, but that eventually gets subsumed by the other synth’s ascendant, serpentine melody and Schwartz’s punchy, triumphant beats. “Procession”’s status as the last cut on the record lends it an indisputable air of “mission accomplished.” Similarly, the emphasis cut “Treatment” opens with crispy, suspense-building synth ostinati and rugged tom-tom hits before soaring into a grandiloquent melody that sounds like one of Boards Of Canada’s beautifully poignant tunes inflated to Milky Way dimensions. But really, all eight tracks on the Equinox album are worthy of repeat listens, as these rigorous scientists of sound offer both gripping compositional drama and transcendent escapism.