Rainbow Pitstop – Top Nu Jazz / Jazztronica Discoveries of 2020

January 13, 2021 - Blog

Rainbow Pitstop – Top Nu Jazz / Jazztronica Discoveries of 2020

Taking a pitstop somewhere along the rainbow, sit down & spruce up your brew with technicolour spices. Here you’ll find the intricate and delicate melodies of progressive music, as voiced by the softer sounds of instrumentation. Here are the top jazzy jaunts that came through our prisms, and some of the music pushing jazz to its modern boundaries. Jazz crossovers with folk, hip-hop, neo-soul, prog-rock and experimental electronic music, made by artists from UK, Bahrain, Japan, US, Russia, Italy, Poland and more.

Written by Molly Sisson, Baxtak, Alia O’Brien, Chad Murray, Arya Afshar


Alternatively, you can find the playlist on YouTube.

30/70 – Tempted (Maxwell Owin Remix) [Rhythm Section International]

Yet another spell-bounding release on Stamp The Wax by Maxwell Owin remixing a song by 30/70, a Jazz collective from Melbourne. Over the years this producer has been perfecting his unique sound between futuristic electronic music and traditional jazz, and it is clear to say he has finely polished this beautiful concoction. The remix reverberates future garage against genteel saxophone and drums creating a voice for the future of Nu-Jazz with his sharp, offbeat tracks. ‘Tempted’ is a colourful and flamboyant track, keeping its original crisp notes of saxophone and flutes while personalising it with his atmospheric stamp.

– Written by Molly

44th Move – Hope ft. Takuya Kuroda [Black Acre]

2020 saw 44th Move’s debut EP, a power duet between Jazz enthusiasts Alfa Mist and Richard Spaven, bringing a sense of urban decay to lounge jazz. ‘Hope’ is put into motion with Mists off-beat hip-hop and grime tinted vocals over smooth piano and whispering drums. Each piano key creating a memento, climaxing to a monumental trumpet solo by Japanese musician Takuya Kuroda. Jazz here serves as the subconscious of conscious rap, pushing forward to create this breath-taking piece.

– Written by Molly

Seppa x Chalky – Strange Changes [Slug Wife]

The inseparable duo of Chalky & Seppa united again at their home of the slugs (Slug Wife label) to bring you technicolour jazzy bass music. Their sophomore 14-track album, ‘Strange Changes’ glides through a signature blend to realise rainbow-surfing music. With duelling mastery of the saxophone and guitar, as well as a guru tier approach to production, Chalky & Seppa bring a much-needed organic touch to the heavier side of the jazz-hop / chill-hop genre, without compromising feel for technical braggadocio.

– Written by Baxtak

Ikotu – Impenetrable Glass Box [Prrrrrrr Records / SVNSET WAVES]

Ikotu has always been a sizeable contender for a ‘Best Of’ list in practically everything he produces. An artist who’s been on our radar for a good 5 years, he has constantly evolved to keep his techy and glittering foley-driven downtempo jazztronica sound, flowing from dark to lighter themes over the years. ‘Impenetrable Glass Box’ may be the artist’s most cohesive body of work yet, and over 6 songs, it sounds the memory of a dingy New York jazz bar from the 60s from the perspective of a futuristic hi-fidelity music box. You won’t hear a better blend of playful jazzy chords, hi-low-fi production, dribbling space arpeggios and a family bucket worth of chimes anywhere else; not on Ikotu’s watch.

– Written by Baxtak

Cumulus Frisbee – Displacer Eraser [Radio Juicy]

Arguably one of the most playful jazztronica releases you’ll have heard in 2020 would have come from Cumulus Frisbee. While a ‘debut album’, this has enough character in it to trump many artists’ whole discogoraphies in creatively. Lo-fi aesthetics mixes with what sounds like the chirping of mini laser birds, while the 12 tracks paint an incredibly technicolourful and bubble gum flavoured neo-soul, and a subtle psychedelic sense of confusion you’d expect a toddler to experience when they first see a bouncy castle. ‘Hyperion’ is a must-listen if you wanna catch a feel good moment or two!

– Written by Baxtak

Somatoast – Dreamhop Jazzytime

Somatoast’s ‘Dreamhop Jazzytime’ brings you a dose of space-laced nu-jazz psychedelic chillhop. Having perfected his sound in the technical realms of psybass music, Somatoast has evolved to carve his into his own unique path, combining intricate & playful sound design with a truly soulful blend of psychedelic beats, funky IDM and organic instrumentation. The result…? Well let’s just say it sounds and feels like wearing an astronaut invincibility suit made of bubblegum, shooting into the sky, surfing auroras and bouncing off stars across the galaxy like you’re in a cosmic pinball machine.

– Written by Baxtak

Bon-Psy – Ikigai

‘Bon-Psy’ is a new artist on our radar this year, yet one that perfectly captures the crossover between technical electronic music and jazzy neo-soul music. With smooth groove transitions, a creative song-structure, soulful vocal melodies, and a subtle approach to glitching which only accentuates the song’s main concepts, ‘Ikigai’ is a perfect symbiosis of tech and feel. Fans of artists like Persian Empire, Ikotu, Tennyson and other inhabitants of the nu jazztronica space will be riding infinite rainbows to this one.

– Written by Baxtak

The VV Experience – Vvillains [Sola Terra]

Fragmented and wobbly frequencies bringing textures and currents of new and old sounds in an animated composition. The VV Experience brings a futuristic vision of jazz while paying their respects to the patrons. This 5-piece band creates lively energy, from the rapid riffs on the trombone and saxophone to gripping keys from the keyboard. ‘Vvilains’ has the ability to bring you to proximity with the instruments in what feels like an immersive jamming session.

– Written by Molly

corto.alto – Squonk [435 Records]

Nu-Jazz group Corto.Alto have really excelled in this 8-man band from Glasgow. Recorded in their flat on a busy road, the musicians create their own sound clash confronting the traffic of the outside world. Each member promptly chimes in, bringing their own flavour to the track, creating an effortless yet exceptional uproar. This song screams sweaty palms and out-of-breath musicians with talent and passion. With turbulent solos and constant groove, the listener is swallowed whole into their world, immersed in raw Glaswegian finesse.

– Written by Molly

Alice MC – Colours [The Other Songs]

One of the most soothing jazz / neo-soul songs that came through our speaker boxes this year was this cashmere duo-lingual beauty from Alice McCarthy, featuring keys, bass, guitars, drums, 2 violins, viola and cello by collaborating musicians. Alice’s smooth voice and gentle delivery of the love-filled lyrics has the potential to truly tame any rabid monster, while the cinematic and almost orchestral instrumental create a luxurious and opulent space. Nevertheless, there’s no pretentious illusion of grandiose in the luxury, this is affordable beauty for all commonfolk who seek soul.

– Written by Baxtak

Yazz Ahmed – Deeds Not Words (Surly Remix)

The British-Bahraini “High Priestess of psychedelic Arabic jazz”, Yazz Ahmed, has been making all kinds of buzz in the past few years, solidifying her space as a formidable and exiting jazz musician. With an undeniable easter tone, Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymnia album in 2019 was also devoted to six of Yazz’s highly influential female inspirations. Yazz’s success has already been documented via multiple awards from much bigger authorities in jazz than us, including both Jazz FM and the Ivors Academy, however, we’re also here to give her flowers on the electronic side through this remix by Surly which was released this year in the Polyhymnia (Remixed) EP.

One of the factors that in my opinion stands Yazz Ahmed out from the rest is that her remixer choices and musical aesthetics give the impression that she is clued up about what’s relevant in electronic music. She has both been able to captivate the younger electronic-head fans and the traditional jazz-heads in the current era, while also blending modern music with a sound you can imagine to be relevant event 10 centuries ago. Yazz Ahmed is timeless, Surly is the master watchmaker, and together, they arrive at this slithering temporal exploration.

– Written by Baxtak

Snowpoet – Roots [Edition Records]

In the first single off of their forthcoming album Wait for Me, Snowpoet draws the listener toward a space of expansive contemplation, walking the line between impressionism and raucous free improvisation. “Roots” builds a shapeshifting auditory mille-feuilles in which Lauren Kinsella’s cyclic vocals combust into soaring saxophone lines, which quietly settle into pensive Sprechstimme-like passages.

The sonic layers are complimentary, but distinct: for instance, Josh Arcoleo’s saxophone, along with Dave Hamblett’s drums, stretch between sparkling rhythmic motifs and more “out” moments, an ebb and flow that is anchored by the smooth counterpoint of Chris Hyson’s keyboards and Alice Zawadzki’s lyrical violin. Like waves over deep water, “Roots” sonically suggests that even in tempestuous times, there is the possibility of tranquility.

– Written by Alia O’Brien

Alexei Orechin – Stranitsi [Deko Music]

‘Stranitsi’ is an interesting single, on the surface its a smooth jazz track with a crooning brass section, delicate strings and twinkly piano work. On the other hand, the track has wild and erratic drums and guitars that seem to roll off the top, making for a unique listening experience. It is a piece of music that keeps the listener on their toes with the opening crescendos seemingly exploding out of nowhere and the latter half of the track acting as a slumping, gradual recession into calm.

There’s a lot of intrigue to be found in the unpredictably of the track emotionally and sonically and one can only wonder what it is that Alexei Orechin is trying to capture with his music, perhaps it’s simply an evocation of Chaos Theory?

– Written by Chad Murray

The Death Particle – Death Blooms [HP.C]

Ever wonder what Neo-Classical/Jazz would sound like with blast beat drums? Wonder no more, as that is exactly how ‘Death Blooms’ by the Death Particle opens. What happens after is hard to put into words. If I was given 100 guesses as to what a track called Death Blooms by a collective called the Death Particle sounds like, I would still not even get close to what they sound like. Remove the drums and Death Blooms is mostly a very pleasant arrangement of Piano, Flutes, bass and a modest brass section, the type that your grandma may like or that you may find accompanying an epic battle scene in a Western, but the insane drumming chops of Adam Betts puts Death Blooms in a league of its own. The Death Particles lack of commitment to any of the many genres their sound draws from is exactly why this track earns its way to being one of our top picks of 2020.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Immortal Onion – XD [Experience Design] [U Know Me Records]

Polish Trio Immortal Onion’s XD [Experience Design] is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable releases of the year. There is something very characteristic about the sound of a good trio, like how one can often tell which of their friends are an only child. With 2 albums to their name, Immortal Onion may have already carved themselves a name along threesomes like the Hiromi Uehara trio, Physics House Band, Gogo Penguin, and dare we say, Rush. Whether XD is accessible cover to cover to everyone is irrelevant to the fact that it’s impossible to feel bored listening to this record. The sonic journey, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, spans every genre from Jazz to IDM to Metal and even a hint of film music, features heavy yet tasteful use of polyrhythms, uneven rhythms and time signatures, and a diverse palette of sounds, often juxtaposing barebones synths against warm acoustic pianos, drums and a double bass. As soon as they lull the listener into a sense of blissful hip jiggling, they jerk you out of one groove and thrust you into another. The Young trio’s musical maturity despite their age is on full display, and we predict there’s a lot more where XD came from.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Paola Gladys – Blackroom (Live in NYC)

Brooklyn-via-Italy artist Paola Gladys is one artist who hasn’t allowed the pandemic to throw a wrench in her plans, releasing an EP and 2 singles in 2020, and appearing as a guest in a couple more records as well. Following the theme of most good jazz releases of the recent years, her song ‘Blackroom’ introduces non-jazz elements into the jazzsphere, with parts of the track sounding like something out of a Zammuto record.

Gladys is in a league of very few as a singer, something one could call a vocal instrumentalist. There’s seemingly no limit to what leaps and passages she can belt out, not to mention an array of ungodly sound effects. Nevertheless, she keeps it soulful and allows the backing instruments shine through when needed. Also on full sonic display is guest drummer Justin Brown’s insane chops. The Drum solo on Blackroom is one for the ages.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Pravin Thompson – A Thoughtful Collapse [Small Settlement]

Clocking in at 57 minutes, Pravin Thompson’s “A Thoughtful Collapse” is essentially two albums in terms of length by today’s standards. While primarily a jazz record, there’s an interesting trend of most tracks openings sounding heavily influenced by the metal of the 2000s, “Devil at Your Heels” and sounds like a Million Dead record until the Brass section comes in, while Elysium starts off sounding like a prototype math metal track, before all of them slowly shifting into more Jazz-y arrangements.

Pravin Thompson brings a much-missed electric guitar-centric sound back to modern jazz, borrowing more than a few pages from Shoegaze with dissonant distortions, heavenly delays and a tone Pat Metheny would be proud of. Extra props goes to the gorgeous artwork, as well as the album’s production, which often sounds like a live show, a sound we’ve all surely missed.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Tom Misch x Yussef Days – Nightrider ft. Freddie Gibbs [Beyond the Groove]

At a time when your artist friends in your neighborhood are as easy to reach as someone across the ocean, 2020 has made for some top-notch international collaboration projects. Prime among these has been ‘What Kinda Music’ by Tom Misch, in collaboration with UK drummer extraordinaire Yussef Dayes and featuring artists from America & Wales. ‘What kinda music’ sees producer Tom Misch in rare shape, as he dresses his jazz, Trip-Hop & indie sensibilities up with Vaporwave-esque sound design reminiscent of Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal orchestra. Yussef Dayes lives up to his end of the deal by laying down some of the grooviest drumlines this side of early Massive Attack. ‘Nightrider’ is our top pick from this album, featuring US rapper Freddie Gibbs.

– Written by Arya Afshar

Nathan Paul – Travel Socks

‘Travel Socks’, save for a 48-second long outtakes-style skit, is the closing track to Nathan Paul’s ambitious 2020 release ‘Bootleg Music Vol. 3’. Working off a simple motif that gets passed around from the flute to the sax to guitar, Travel Socks is a modern standard brought to life by some of today’s biggest contenders for the title of the “modern John Coltrane”. Band leader and flutist Nathan Paul takes a backseat in this track to give space to his bandmates, only playing on about a 6th of the total 5-ish minute runtime of the track. Classically, the song ends with a fade, as if the band was nowhere near done playing off of the same 5-note motif for another 5, which has become somewhat of a signature style of Nathan Paul’s collective. The song and the album as a whole is a must-listen for modern jazz fans, and the fans of ‘The Comet is coming’, Yussef Dayes, Snarky Puppy and the like.

– Written by Arya Afshar

OPEN EYES THE BOY PHOENIX – World on Its Side [Fantastic Voyage]

“World on its side” is an apt name for a truly uncategorizable single by Open Eyes – The Phoenix Boy, the stage name for Logan Kane. Kane bucks everything from genre to song structure to production in this 4 and half minute mini-masterpiece, sounding like something out of a Bill Wurtz wet dream. Insane bass lines, eccentric production style and offensively bright synths make up the sonic profile of this song, as he jumps from branch to branch with little regard for the unspoken conventions that shackle so many artists who try to aspire to a modicum of relatability, something Kane has effortlessly wriggled himself free of early on in his career. Kane is criminally underappreciated at the moment as somewhat of an unrecognized name, something we foresee our post-reality world will remedy very very soon. We hope to have done our part with this small tribute to a truly outtalectual mind, and urge you to check out some of his work across 6 different releases this year alone!

– Written by Arya Afshar

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