Acid Jazz

An energetic, groove-centered variant of jazz for a generation of club-oriented youth, acid jazz as a style originated in London during the mid-'80s, fostered by rare-groove DJs who spun their favorite records, whether they were up-to-par from a jazz standpoint or not. In the clubs, the only thing that mattered was the groove, and these DJs were inspired in the main by the '70s fringe of jazz — fusion, jazz-funk and Afro-Cuban, with secondary elements of earlier soul jazz. This exposure to a legion of previously unheard records influenced many in the British and American underground, which fed a pool of live musicians and studio-savvy producers working within the style by the early '90s. Though British chart success by Soul II Soul, the Brand New Heavies and Stereo MC's created a glut of sub-par artists and compilations in the stores, players in the underground kept expanding the style, gradually building a global community of artists.

During the early '80s, ever-changing British pop-music trends had seen punk, new wave, and the mod revival come and go. By the mid-point of the decade, the hot music for club DJs was rare groove, a style which re-introduced listeners and dancers to the more obscure jazz-funk and soul records from the '70s. The style took as its cornerstones classics which jazz critics and purists had either neglected or dismissed: music from Miles Davis' electric period, commercial successes like Donald Byrd's Black Byrd and Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, and '70s Blue Note obscurities from the cutout bins of record stores. Of the many DJs around London, the one who became most identified with acid jazz was Gilles Peterson. (Various claims can be made as to his being the first to use the term as well.) Peterson originally started by spinning mammoth sets of jazz-funk from his own personal pirate radio station, located in a garden shed near his home, and he later made the move to broadcast on one of the hottest British pirate stations, Kiss-FM. He also maintained residencies at several London clubs during the late '80s. One of Peterson's buddies was Eddie Piller, the former head of Re-Elect the President Records, and the man who'd released the debut album by a Hammond B-3 extraordinaire named James Taylor (not to be confused with either the singer/songwriter or the Kool & the Gang vocalist). When Taylor moved to Polydor in 1988, Piller received enough money to finance a new label, Acid Jazz Records, as a partnership with Peterson. The company's first releases were a series of compilations titled Totally Wired, each of which alternated jazz-funk obscurities from the 1970s with updated tracks from the new acid jazz.

Peterson later left Acid Jazz Records to form his own Talkin' Loud Records, which soon became one of the other top labels around; it also generated some commercial movement by signing former Acid Jazz artist Galliano as well as Young Disciples and Urban Species. In 1990, another British label, 4th & Broadway Records, began a compilation series titled The Rebirth of Cool, featuring an international cast of artists both young and old, including Pharoah Sanders, Stereo MC's, French rapper MC Solaar, Courtney Pine and Japanese production team United Future Organization, among others. Acid jazz broke into the mainstream in 1991, led by the Brand New Heavies. The group had released one album through Acid Jazz Records, but then moved to FFFR Records for their greatest success, the singles Never Stop and Dream Come True. After the initial British success of acid jazz groups inspired by the rare-groove revival, a spate of marginal compilations flooded the racks, leaving many consumers puzzled over what exactly acid jazz was, which artists played acid jazz, and how to identify the best recordings in the style.

The confusion grew no less clear in the 1990s, as vibrant acid jazz communities sprung up in the U.S. as well, in San Francisco (Ubiquity Records), New York (Giant Step collective) and Los Angeles (Solsonics). By that time, acid jazz could encompass anything from the spy-soundtrack soul jazz of the James Taylor Quartet to Jamiroquai's pop-oriented Stevie Wonder imitations, from the globe-trotting musical eclecticism of Japanese producers United Future Organization to New York's Groove Collective, a ramshackle group of poets, players and hip-hoppers who shared club nights. The growth of interest in electronic club music during the mid-to-late '90s appeared to quash much of the power of acid jazz with the buying public, though many communities around the world remained quite fresh and exciting.

by John Bush
All Music Guide

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