Intertwining jazz and rock is not itself a novel idea. From Miles Davis to Weather Report to Last Exit to the Bad Plus, it has been going on for more than 40 years. But artists are constantly finding new ways to bring elements of rock into the folds of jazz.
Sidony Box - saxophonist Elie Dalibert, guitarist Manuel Adnot, and drummer Arthur Narcy - refers to itself as a power jazz trio. Posed on the jacket of their new album in hooded sweatshirts and unshaven faces like the Beastie Boys, they are clearly aiming for a young audience. Their music, which blends shoegaze and modern prog-rock with jazz improvisation, feels expansive. “Pink Paradise’’ (Naive Records) pleads to be popped in a car stereo and played at high volume on the open road.
With droning guitar and undulating waves of rhythm, the music is textured and layered, so much so that it sounds like a few more than three musicians. Dalibert’s alto sax is alternately melancholy and aggressive on tunes like “Suédois.’’ Despite the instrumentation, the trio draws on the aesthetics of certain rock bands - Radiohead, Tortoise, and Sonic Youth, in particular - as it constructs songs. (And these are structured songs, not aimless jams.) Sidony Box’s ethos crystallizes on the 10-minute drone “Léman’’ and on “Ultimate Pop Song,’’ a tune with a gorgeous hook that evokes both the melodicism and the expansive sound of Sigur Rós.
Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer has forged his identity by bridging the worlds of jazz and electronic music. And it is the best of both: Molvaer pits the warmth and freedom of improvisation against the intense drama of ambient, electronica, and trip-hop. Indeed, he turns the cold, unwavering structure of that world on its head.
It is easy to imagine Davis, if he were still alive, making the kind of music one hears on “Baboon Moon’’ (Thirsty Ear). Molvaer, guitarist Stian Westerhus, and drummer Erland Dahlen construct barren, dark, and dirty audio-scenes that draw direct lineage to bands like Massive Attack. Molvaer blows in a stark, detached manner over the dystopian backdrop of “Mercury Heart,’’ a faint kick drum acting as a heartbeat. Westerhus’s harsh guitar - which also manages to provide the bass line - fuels the rocker “Recoil.’’ In between the abrasives, rhythmless ambient soundscapes like “A Small Realm’’ and “Prince of Calm’’ offer much-needed buffer zones.
Brian Landrus - who plays baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, and bass flute on “Capsule’’ (BlueLand Records) - creates a very special kind of music with his band The Landrus Kaleidoscope. It is modern and contemporary - indeed, pop oriented - but it doesn’t give in to the artificial-sweetener trappings of smooth jazz. No, this quintet, which includes pianist Michael Cain (mostly on Fender Rhodes), guitar Nir Felder, bassist Matthew Parish, and drummer Rudy Royston, makes an organic fusion that ignores the boundaries that supposedly separate jazz, rock, pop, and R&B.
Forget that the music has a backbeat. It’s bona fide jazz, and the openness of tunes such as the driving “Striped Phrase’’ and the reggae-based “Like the Wind’’ provide ample space for wise improvisation. He doesn’t swing like Gene Krupa, but Royston’s drumming is crisp and smart; on “Striped Phase’’ he lapses into an alternative time signature for a few bars while the rest of the band keeps stride. Landrus’s bass clarinet wraps phrases, vinelike, around the skittering drums and airy electric piano chords of “Beauty.’’ The buildup of the soft R&B number “I Promise’’ is so patient and romantic that you half expect Barry White to start singing, but there is no need: Landrus’s clarinet is every bit as sultry. “Capsule’’ achieves a rare feat: It’s easy on the ears and nourishing for the brain.Steve Greenlee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGreenlee.