At some point, I’m not sure when, the term “jazz” fell out of favor with artists. Could it have been during the 70s when funk artists attempted to masquerade their marathon improvisational studio sessions as something fresh and new, perhaps R&B with a harder edge? Or could it have been during the 80s when artists like Kenny G were blamed for choking the life out of the art form while Branford Marsalis was criticized for betraying jazz tradition by embracing hip hop? Lounge music, down tempo, acid jazz, chill out, etc. Characterize it as you wish, one thing is undeniable. The fluidity of Bonobo’s Days To Come stands as a symbol of jazz’ greatest triumph.
Simon Green, the artist behind Bonobo, makes jazz music in a fashion similar to that of many hip hop producers mixing disparate pieces of live instruments, vocals and computer technology to create a fresh, yet organic, sound. Days To Come stands as a triumph of this technique featuring music that is suited for both listening and dancing. There is something both familiar and exotic to the sound of the album, perhaps an homage to the Zairian origins of Green’s stage name.
From the listener’s first spin of Days To Come, it’s clear that the standout tracks are those featuring Bajka, a vocalist who grew up as part of the Embryo music commune. Her distinctly nondescript voice on “Days To Come,” “Between The Lines,” “Nightlite,” and “Walk In The Sky” does so much more than simply reflect her travels through Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Germany. It takes the listener on a journey traipsing the music of continents and cultures. This album is purchase-worthy based on this pairing alone.
Ironically, it’s the juxtaposition of the vocal tracks with the instrumental tracks that reveal the lone shortcoming of Bonobo’s Days To Come. They place the listener in somewhat of a holding pattern, plaintively waiting for the next vocal track to depart. Tracks like “The Fever” and ‘Ketto,” which would be standouts on other artists’ albums, feel like mere interludes here solely because of the heights reached on the vocal tracks. Nevertheless, the rousing “Transmission94 (parts 1 & 2),” the bombastic “On Your Marks” and the simultaneously swift and serene “Recurring” reflect Bonobo’s affinity toward jazz.
Yes, jazz purists are likely to thumb their noses at any attempt to characterize outings like Bonobo’s Days To Come as jazz pieces. However, they only reveal themselves as misguided relics of an era when music was subject to easy categorization. From its inception, jazz was a chameleon capable of changing as swiftly as the times. It’s the mark of an improvisational art form and Bonobo is the latest in that tradition.