In the Groove | Sojourners

In the Groove

Okay, you’ve heard about acid jazz but don’t have a clue what it is, except that it sounds dangerous. Don’t despair. It’s not easy to keep up with what the kids are listening to these days. Don’t expect an easy definition, however. Few people agree on what it is—except that it’s funky.

To give you a loose grip on it, acid jazz emerged in the late ’80s in the British dance club scene from DJs who were spinning old ’70s tunes mixed with live music and spoken word. Live bands began to absorb the influence, reworking American "roots music"—jazz, soul, R & B, funk—into new combinations with rap, hip hop, sampling, Latin jazz, disco, and African rhythms.

Unlike the preponderance of popular music in America over the last 50 years, mostly built around the guitar, acid jazz thrives on the construction of tight grooves, syncopated cadences constructed around the rhythm section, especially the interaction between bass and percussion. In fact, every instrument is played for its percussive qualities, emphasizing the "feel" of the music rather than giving one instrument (usually an electric guitar) room to show off.

Many also distinguish between the U.K. acid jazz sound and what’s going on in the United States under the same name. Both share a commitment to finding a deep groove and staying there, but in general U.S. bands tend to be heavier on the jazz component, leaving more room on top of the groove for lead instruments to spiral off in solos. There also has tended to be a greater exploration of rap and hip hop in the American acid jazz scene.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1997
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