Styles & Forms | Acid Jazz

Acid jazz is a lively, groove-oriented music style that combines elements from jazz, funk and hip hop, with an emphasis on jazz dance. The term ‘acid jazz’ was first used during the late 1980s, both as the name of an American record label and the title of a British jazz funk, ‘rare groove’ compilation series.

Interest had originally been sparked by a thriving London club scene, where hip DJs were playing rare 1970s jazz funk records. This encouraged British and American underground musicians such as The Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, Stereo MC’s, Galliano and Groove Collective, who began to popularize the style by the 1990s.

One of the first DJs to be identified with acid jazz was the London-based Gilles Peterson, who began broadcasting jazz funk sets from his garden shed at home and DJing at London clubs in the late 1980s. He teamed up with Eddie Piller, who had previously released a debut album by a young, contemporary Hammond organ virtuoso, James Taylor, to form Acid Jazz Records. The label’s first releases were a series of compilations titled Totally Wired, which alternated jazz funk obscurities from the 1970s with updated tracks from the new acid jazz movement. Peterson later formed his own acid jazz label, Talkin’ Loud Records.

Mainstream Acid Jazz

Acid jazz entered into the mainstream in 1990, after The Brand New Heavies released their self-titled debut album on the Acid Jazz label. Formed in 1985 by drummer Jan Kincaid, guitarist Simon Bartholomew and bassist/keyboardist Andrew Levy – old school friends from London – they were originally an instrumental band inspired by James Brown and The Meters, whose records were getting extensive play around the rare groove scene. The band began recording their own material, added a singer and a brass section, and gained exposure via the club circuit. Their first album was a success and it was followed by a string of hit singles in 1991 in the UK and US. Then came Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1 (1992), featuring guest appearances by the rappers Main Source, Gang Starr, Grand Puba and The Pharcyde. The following album, Brother Sister (1994), went platinum in Britain, and the band’s success has since continued on both sides of the Atlantic with Original Flava (1994) and Delicious (1997).

After the emergence of The Heavies, Galliano and a few smaller UK acid jazz bands, a spate of compilations were launched en masse by record labels, leaving many consumers confused over exactly what the style was or who played it. The confusion increased when even more independent acid jazz communities began to spring up all over the US during the early 1990s. By then, the term could refer to anything from Jamiroquai’s commercial soul funk to The James Taylor Quartet’s rendering of the ‘Starsky And Hutch Theme’, or from the ethnic eclecticism of the Japanese producers United Future Organisation to the hip hop poetry of New York’s...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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