If you’ve been in any jazz club in the last 10 years, you know, like I do, that jazz today is worlds away from where it was at its commercial and arguable artistic peaks in the first half of the 20th century.
Post-processing and live mixing have become permanent fixtures in the scene, and seeing anyone pick up a stand up bass these days is honestly kind of a rarity.
If you, like most people out there, feel like you don’t recognize the contemporary jazz scene, then look no further for an intro than Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes collaboration album, What Kinda Music.
After two separate relatively short yet incredibly fruitful solo careers, these two have come to deliver a project that encapsulates and preserves all the calm, cool suaveness of Miles Davis while still pushing the genre forward with a masterful use of modern hip-hop and R&B inspired production techniques. Couple that with stellar drum performances from Yussef Dayes, arguably one of the best drummers in the current jazz scene after his breakthrough with Kamaal Williams in 2016 with Black Focus, and you have a blueprint for a modern jazz masterpiece.
The album opener is also its title track—”What Kinda Music”. Driving ahead with synth lines that echo the dark 80s retro aesthetic seen in a Nicholas Winding Refn movie but with the refined, brooding swagger of an early Weeknd song, Misch and Dayes grab your hand and pull you on a journey through the night. The beautiful, haunting lines laid over Dayes’ unparalleled drumming sets you in a mood of sensual anticipation.
The next highlight is probably one of the album’s singles, “Nightrider”. Wearing its hip-hop influence on its sleeve with a phenomenal feature from Freddie Gibbs, this song transports you to your most calm, happy place. For me, that’s the PCH at sunset—driving with the windows down while briny air comes off the waves, infusing my head with the cool essence of the ocean. As always, the beat provided by Dayes is an impeccable groundwork for keeping the groove bouncing along.
For a showcase of pure instrumental and compositional perfection, I want to highlight two tracks—the single “Kyiv” and closer “Storm Before the Calm”. The first of these two, “Kyiv”, has this intoxicatingly complex drum part that absolutely blows my mind every time I hear it. Misch’s guitar work on this track is also a masterclass in style. His reverb-heavy chords echo through the space they’re playing and fill you with this powerful warmth that travels through your entire body.
“Storm Before the Calm” ends the project out in classic jazz style. This track gives every opportunity for the two to flash their incredible technical skills, delivering a deeply soulful sax line and one of the strongest drum performances on this album, maybe across the whole genre in recent years. In many ways, it acts as the jazz equivalent to a hip-hop flex track, showing the absolute peak of Misch and Dayes’ abilities before once again fading out into the night.
For a lot of music fans today, jazz seems a little unapproachable. Artists are all too often loading their projects with ten minute long manifesto tracks that have multiple movements and run all over the place. It can definitely be intimidating. With What Kinda Music, you get all the impressive technicality of modern jazz in a digestible format, all tracks 5 minutes or less, and some of the deepest, smoothest grooves in music right now.
Colin Brunson is a Cal Poly History junior and KCPR staff member. Image credit to Tom Misch/Yussef Dayes.