The Progressive Edge: The Rise of Jazz-Rock
Over the years the terms “jazz-rock,” “fusion” and “progressive rock” have come to represent a number of different things to a myriad of people. There have been many heady and heated debates on music blogs and Internet forums regarding what constitutes and truly defines the genre. Are they three distinct entities or should they remain separate, without any talk of crossover interaction? And then there are the “purists” who would tend to demonize or rebuke any artist that would dare to subvert the classic improvisational art form with overt structures and elements of rock, pop or funk rhythms, motifs and moods.
In the words of Edward Kennedy Ellington, and at the risk of sounding like a cliché, there are only two kinds of music—good and bad. And, especially due to those nebulous borders that arise and blur along the progressive music edge, Duke’s assessment is now more relevant than ever. Today, it all falls under the umbrella of music with a rich, albeit complex, history.
One enthusiastic entrepreneur who has embraced the diversity and complexity of progressive music and presents its many facets in new and exciting ways is Leonardo Pavkovic of Moonjune Records. The New York-based Pavkovic started the independent label in 2001. He is a veteran producer and tour manager who is very hands-on with his artists and, in doing so, brings a personal touch and passion that naturally shines through. Moonjune, which derives its name from a reference to Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt’s 1970 composition “The Moon In June,” focuses on artists and groups that revel in the alchemy that can occur when the offshoots of said progressive triumvirate intersect. Moonjune is also truly a global enterprise in that it not only has signed artists from the standard U.S., U.K. and European regions, but has traveled to atypical lands like Indonesia and South America to offer a truly unique and quality roster.
Boasting a catalog exceeding well over 50 releases, Moonjune features many underground artists and bands that are redefining the progressive genre for modern ears. Some of those artists include the trio Doubt. On their latest release, Mercy Pity Peace & Love, keyboardist Alex Maguire, guitarist Michel Delville and drummer Tony Bianco take a “kitchen sink” approach, employing creative use of sampling with a raw aesthetic. Italian keyboardist Beppe Crovella’s 2010 epic What’s Rattlin’ On The Moon spotlights music inspired by British band Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge, utilizing a totally fresh and unorthodox perspective to classic material. Canada’s Mahogany Frog‘s Senna is the art rocker’s latest offering and defies category and convention with a neo-psychedelic mix of guitar feedback, vintage analog-derived electronic sounds and synthesizers. Two of Pavkovic’s newer discoveries hail from Indonesia: Tohpati Bertiga’s Riot and Ligro’s Dictionary 2. Tohpati Bertiga is a guitar-driven jazz-rock trio led by Indonesian guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo that seems to embody a contemporary Lifetime kind of feel, with an emphasis on heavy licks, funky rhythms and sterling improvisation.
Ligro’s latest is somewhat similar, featuring guitar at the forefront, but with some classical elements blended in. Veteran guitarist Allan Holdsworth has hopped on the Moonjune bandwagon as well with re-releases and remasters of his seminal works.
However you slice it, jazz-rock, fusion and progressive rock are alive and well. And it is proponents like Pavkovic who are bringing it to the fore.