Three concerts in Philadelphia show the reinvention of contemporary jazz

The concept of jazz for some is frozen in an eternal bebop era, with men in suits playing swinging beats in smoky nightclubs.

Audiences looking for an update can find three vibrant examples of the genre’s most contemporary developments in Philadelphia this week. On Wednesday October 19, it’s hard to choose between drummer Antonio Sánchez and his band Bad Hombre at World Café Live, and British trio The Comet Is Coming at Underground Arts. On Thursday, October 20, irreverent jazz prodigy duo DOMi & JD Beck will perform The Foundry at The Fillmore.

Impossible to deny Antonio Sánchez’s jazz good faith. Reached via Zoom last week, he was in Mexico to wrap up a world tour with guitar great Pat Metheny. He has also recorded with legends such as Chick Corea and Gary Burton. But Sánchez’s 2017 album bad man saw the drummer-composer embark on a new path, partly inspired by his acclaimed drum score for Alejandro González Iñarritu’s Oscar-winning film birdman.

“The way I see jazz these days is like the tool that gives me the freedom to do something that defies categorization,” Sánchez said. “I feel like the role of an artist is one of constant growth and inner searching, and I hope that hunger for doing more and doing different things doesn’t stop anytime soon.”

Sampled elements from the albums will mingle with live improvisation when Sánchez performs at the World Cafe. His band Bad Hombre includes his wife, vocalist Thana Alexa, as well as Japanese keyboardist/producer BIGYUKI and Australian bassist/programmer Lex Sadler, each of whom mix jazz and disparate influences. The combination allows Sánchez to create a malleable approach that defies easy categorization.

“Jazz has always been somewhat marginal,” he explained, “and after the pandemic, I feel like what was big before is bigger now and what was small before is smaller now. I try to think outside the box a bit and imprint my knowledge of jazz into those projects that have influences of rock, pop, hip-hop, reggae, etc. But it wouldn’t sound like that if it didn’t. didn’t have all the nuances that I acquired during my years as a jazz artist.

At only 22 and 19 years old respectively, the keyboard-drums duo composed of DOMi and JD Beck use all the tools at their generational disposal. They walk between the jazz tradition and contemporary pop, which is good since their first album, Not tightwas jointly released by venerable jazz label Blue Note and Anderson .Paak’s Apeshit brand.

Long before releasing an album, the duo had amassed a following with their YouTube videos, which mix dizzying, virtuoso renditions of jazz standards with boyish humor and stunning outfits that could serve as camouflage in a candy store. The duo reached out to an elusive young audience with music that’s not that far off from late jazz fusion once you clear out the social media-ready trappings. And they received the imprimatur of at least one jazz icon: legendary keyboardist Herbie Hancock.

Danalogue, The Comet Is Coming’s synthesizer/producer (also known as Dan Leavers), cites Hancock as a touchstone for his style-changing trio. “The way Herbie has evolved throughout his career is just amazing,” he said by phone from the band’s Chicago tour stop.

“He was comfortable having a killer riff and a killer drumbeat and then creating these open spaces, these sonic universes in which to express and communicate with each other as a group. [In the same way]we bring together a new set of instruments in an ensemble to express ourselves.

The Comet Is Coming is representative of a thriving London jazz scene that has captured the attention of international audiences in recent years. The trio is made up of Danalogue, drummer Betamax (Max Hallett) and saxophonist King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings, who also leads bands Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors). The band’s shows are high-octane affairs that feel more grounded in dance music than jazz (Danalogue and Betamax also collaborate as electronic duo Soccer96).

Their fourth album, Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam, was recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio where the trio improvised together, after which Danalogue and Betamax sorted through the recordings to select and reshape the best material. “People think of improvisation as just creating random stuff,” Danalogue said. “But once you know your method of composing is based on spontaneous composing, in your head you’re half writing while you play… The three of us are on a crazy wavelength together, so we bond often quite well.”

While it’s impossible to identify The Comet Is Coming or any of these artists with just one genre, Danalogue sees this fluidity as a debt to the inspiration, if not the literal sound, of jazz.

“Where we intersect with jazz is in the spirit of creating and searching for a new sound,” he said. “When a lot of people think of jazz, they think of Miles Davis” kind of blueor John Coltrane blue train, or Duke Ellington. But if you actually look at the jazz arc, you see a genre that is constantly reinventing itself.

  • Antonio Sanchez and Bad Hombre play at World Cafe Live, 8 p.m. Oct. 19, 3025 Walnut St., Phila. For tickets, visit worldcafelive.com

  • The comet is coming plays Underground Arts, 8:30 p.m. Oct. 19 with Salami Rose Joe Louis, 1200 Callowhill St., Phila. For tickets, visit undergroundarts.org

  • DOMi & JD Beck play The Foundry at The Fillmore, 8 p.m. Oct. 20, 29 E. Allen St., Phila. For tickets, visit thefillmorephilly.com

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