A journey into Smooth Acid Jazz


I asked Duncan Millar about Smooth Acid Jazz. He answered: 

"I'm not sure if this is some definite new movement or what?"

Not yet. But Smooth Jazz as a genre or radio format needs new impulses, a renewal. Smooth Acid Jazz would undoubtly be a possible model and as I will make evident is already a practised way as a reviver.

Duncan explains further: 

"I think smooth acid jazz is created mostly by UK or European-based producers. Their background is often not so much as musicians, but as producers, DJ's, programmers samplists etc. This is is distinct contrast to US-focused smooth-jazz, where the emphasis is on the style of a particular highly-accomplished musician, such as Rick Braun or Kenny G. Often, they have had a lot of experience in independent dance music, and their compositional thoughts are centered on what people like to dance to. However, along with a taste for club-music, they also have a huge love of jazz-related groove music, which could mean anything from jazz to funk to soul, and probably have a huge record collection to prove it. All this is certainly true of Down to the Bone, who I used to work with in my West London studio making raucous house records before they started Down to the Bone. It is also true of Chris Bangs, whose background is as a DJ etc. I myself have a musician background, but I also did a lot of house and trance music before A-One. It seemed quiet natural to transfer the way you think about that kind of music to working with more jazz-oriented material with samplers, synths and drum-machines etc. 

What makes smooth acid-jazz (if there is such a thing) different to acid-jazz is that the latter basically seemed to die off in the UK several years ago, although I think it could still be said to exist in a different form in trip-hop and chill-out music etc, and also is evident on European-based labels such as Compost Records. The club outlet was not really there anymore, but Jazz FM had started in London (still the only jazz-oriented station in London), which mostly favours the kind of music played on US radio, i.e. smooth jazz. Smooth jazz is more melodic and a piece tends to be structured more like a song that a free-form dance 12-inch. It was natural that considerations such as these would influence producers who wanted to continue their activities in acid-jazz."

Duncan Millar is one of these artists bringing freshness into Smooth Jazz by using elements of Acid Jazz. Duncan startet with his A-One project. WOW Records released A-One's  first single  "West By South West". WOW had also released tracks by other acid jazz artists such as Heavy Shift and Diane Brown. It was based in Notting Hill, West London, to which area A-One's studio had recently re-located, where it was occasionally made use of by other bands and producers, notably Down to The Bone. The whole album was finally released on Indochina Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. (1994) and licensed by Trippin 'n' Rhythm Records for the US market (1999). 

Duncan 's soundsamples of this album on his website are worth a listen. One can discover a certain similiarity to the music of Down To The Bone or Soundscape UK. Typical is the shuffle drum rhythm and the strong use of vibe sounds. In an interview with Jeff Charney published on contemporaryjazz.com David Benoit perfectly describes the sound as followed: 

"A lot of it is repetitious."

The pieces get a certain grooving dynamic by the quick repetition of melody lines, which make them hypnotic, dancable and attractive. By the way David Benoit is a good example how the influence of Acid Jazz on Smooth Jazz is measurable. Duncan regards his album as a fusion of his interests in acid jazz and contemporary dance music.

His next album Duncan released under his own name: 

"Dream Your Dream" represents both a  progression as well as a return to my original roots."

"Dream Your Dream" was released in August 1998 on Instinct Records (Instinct Jazz) and in February 1999 in UK. Already the first track "Little Ray Of Sunshine" makes it evident: Duncan has a Smooth Jazz impact. The tunes are less agressive more smooth, but still shines the acid jazz shuffle rhythm through ("A New Day"). Thanks to Jazz FM Smooth Jazz has a chance in UK too, and is gladly adapted. So we can listen to much sax by Mike Smith and trumpet by Arden Hart and Ernie McKone, who also produced mainly this album. I would compare this developement with the history of the fine arts, when Rubens and other artists were painting for their noble clients. Radio stations can partly influence the evolution of music. 

On the following album "Good To Go" released on Instinct Records June 2001 one can assume a stronger influence of Acid Jazz. "Super-Real Feel" starts as an uptempo track with vibes, bass and the typical shuffle-beat. But strings in the background and Chris Standring's smooth jazzy improvisations makes it clear: we listen to Smooth Acid Jazz. "One Warm Day" and "Sci-Fi Hi" are further pieces in this style, the other tunes are pure Smooth Jazz. The album was produced by Tony Campbell, who also played bass, electric and acoustic guitars and drum programming on this album. Tony Campbell has an own band "Nite Flyte" and also remixed tunes of Gota and Soundscape UK. 

Chris Mann comments this album:

"Did you guess?  I love the album, there’s not one track I don’t enjoy.  With some live drums and smoother fades on a couple of tracks, yes, I’d say it would be perfect.  On the sleeve photo, Duncan Millar looks like a young guy – I for one hope he’s making music this good for a long time."

 Chris' Digging Deeper

The albums received frequent radioplay on Jazz FM, so Ralph Tee was motivated to license both albums for his Passion Jazz label. The album was released under the title "Comin' Thru" (2001). My personal thoughts about this album are written at Firstview

Duncan withholds at his website www.duncanmillar.com that he has a further project with the bassist Martin Klute under the name "Voltage". You can listen to some soundsamples at http://www.klute.co.uk/voltage.htm. I hope that both find a label to release this new stuff.



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