No Jazz Comes to North America

No Jazz No Jazz Comes to
North America

by Mark Ruffin

Quebec City, Quebec. When No Jazz becomes the next big thing in contemporary jazz, remember where you read it first. If that prognostication doesn’t come to fruition, it will because of shortsightedness by Warner Brothers. This very talented French quintet made their North American debut earlier this month at the Village Underground in New York on the 2nd and here at the 35th annual Quebec City World Music Festival three days later. The music that they play has been called acid jazz, drum n’ bass and no doubt purists will shout that the band’s name is quite apt, despite the be-bop and post-bop lines the lead horn players constantly lay over their hip-hop and dance rhythms.

Traditionalists also may consider it blasphemous that the group’s debut self-titled release opens with a member doing an imitation of Miles Davis saying in a rasp, “Hi, this is Miles. I want you to dig this group from Paris called No Jazz.” However, the group gets a real endorsement from the legendary No JazzTeo Marceo, the man who produced some of the greatest Davis albums, including both of his gold records, “Kind Of Blue,” and the genre-bending “Bitches Brew.” Marceo heard a demo tape of the two-year group, and immediately flew to Paris to produce No Jazz’ first record. “Here was this 75 year-old man jumping up and down and dancing all around,” said Pascal Reva, who plays drums, bass, guitar and sings for the band. “Three of us had no idea who he was, but of course our trumpet player and saxophonist did and were very excited.

“But it was good that we didn’t know him,” he continued with his heavy French accent, “Because in the studio we weren’t in awe of his past and were able to relax.” According to Reva, the band was more nervous for their American premiere. It was not because they were in New York, or that decision makers from Warner Brother were in the audience. In fact, they were quite loose until the opening act Anti-Funk brought up a special guest, none other than master funkateer George Clinton. “We looked out on stage, and there was George Clinton,” Reva remembered. “Here we were, our first time in the United States, and George Clinton is opening for us. It was a real honor, but it did add to the pressure.”

No Jazz continues in the French forward-looking 21st century contemporary jazz trend led by trumpeter Erik Truffaz and the Parisian group St. Germain, which had the largest selling contemporary jazz album in America two years running. Warner France was the first to release their 16 track eponymous debut, and this month it was picked up by Warner Canada. Considering the success of St. Germain on these shores, it would be a huge corporate gamble if Warner America passes, and make this an import only record. It would be easy for the conglomerate to market the group as having a sound very similar to their countrymen, however it wouldn’t be accurate.

They are not like St. Germain, a jam band improvising over soft grooves playing what in some circles is known as lounge music. Nor do they play dissonant angular lines over their hip-hop rhythms that border on the avant-garde like Truffaz. And while both Truffaz and No Jazz’ young trumpeter Nicolas Folmer are obviously influenced by Davis, Truffaz is decidedly molded No Jazzin the 70’s & early 80’s textural style of the great trumpeter, while in the bright clear tone of the youngster, you can hear the be-bop Miles of the 50’s, and the muted hip-hop Miles of 90’s.

In addition, Folmer said his influences also include Chet Baker, Roy Hargrove and Russell Gunn. The saxophonist, Phillipe Sellam, on the other hand, gives only one name, the same guy who everyone in the band counts as its main influence, Branford Marsalis. “More than any other band, No Jazz was modeled after Branford Marsalis’ group, Buckshot LeFonque,” Sellam confirms in broken English. “That’s who we hear.” Buckshot LeFunque would be a good place to start to describe No Jazz’s acid jazz sound. But it could be argued that their core style is better summed up as a cross between the Chicago group Liquid Soul and an all music version of London’s Incognito. The group’s turntablist, DJ Mike Chekli, may be the most precise spinner since Herbie Hancock introduced DST in the late 80’s on “Rockit” and their wild and crazy keyboardist Phillipe Belatier add very unique samples that add to the good times this band has live. Even though their high-energy record is very good, like most bands who haven’t been together long, No Jazz has not captured their live sound on record. When they do, they are going to be big jazz stars. That is, if Warner Brothers lets them.