Many jazz fans are still suspicious of electronic music. It seems like child's play that doesn't require the hard work and years of dues paying that typifies the life of a jazz musician. Working as Jazztronik, Tokyo's Ryota Nozaki has been challenging that stereotype of the "nu-jazz" DJ for nearly two decades.
Nozaki spent years as a child studying classical piano and discovered jazz through the music of Herbie Hancock. That set him up to pursue Herbie's pattern of constant musical evolution and change. His latest album brings his career full circle, playing piano with the strings and accordion quartet Good People on their new self-titled album.
On this week's New Cool show, we present the song that made him Japan's #1 DJ, "Samurai" from 2005. "The piano phrase in the track comes from a warm-up practice melody I use for my fingers,” Nozaki related to xlr8r.com when the song was released. Adding a driving drum and bass line that doesn't overshadow the piano, he also blends in quick cuts of vocalizing and "ray gun" sound effects here and there to remind us of both the DJ and pianist halves of his musical identity.
While many DJs cross into the world of jazz by making greedy use of sampled riffs from existing jazz songs, Jazztronik produces his own melodies to layer upon his beats. It's a fresh style that brings a touch of humanity to the sometimes cold sound of electronic music, and it holds up even a dozen years after this piece was released.
Where his musical muse takes him next is anyone's guess, but Nozaki's constantly evolving pursuit of various music styles is always welcome in the world of jazz. Of course, he says it never hurts having good record stores nearby, "I love digging for records and discovering new sounds and styles.” Amen to that!
The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.