Music in Context; The flawed concept of Genre

Name: Conor Gaffney

Comment: One thing I’ve been curious about is how concepts from one musical genre can be applied to another, often completely different genre i.e. jazz and metal. How much overlap can there be?


 

Hi Conor,

Thank you for your message. This question raises a very interesting topic but it isn’t really one I can give a simple straight answer to. In many regards, how much overlap is possible can be completely down to individual subjective opinion.

I’ll try to answer it by first dissecting the genres you mentioned; Jazz & Metal

 

 

Metal as a genre is aptly diverse and incredibly experimental by nature. It can be characterised by aggressive distorted guitars, growly, cutting bass, intense drums often with double kick drum, shredding guitar solos, sweep picking, tapping, drop tunings, extended range guitars and basses and vocally varies from death growls to clean operatic vocals.
Tempo choice can range from slow, sludgy half time which is prominent in Doom metal, to blistering fast tempos prominent in Speed/Power Metal.
Instrument choice can also be significant; there are instrument companies who specifically cater towards metal musicians such as BC Rich, Jackson and Ibanez. Instruments such as the Chapman Ghost Fret are designed with metal and heavy guitar tones in mind.
Metal can also be characterised by production style, the way the drums are mixed, and mid scooping.

 

 

Mid scooping is when the mid range of EQ is scooped in the mix, allowing room for the really shrill frequencies in the range where the human ear is most sensitive, and the sub harmonic register bass frequencies to significantly come into play. The Electro Harmonix Metal Muff fuzz is an adaptation of the Big Muff which has a scooped mid range to fit the genre more aptly.
I could be wrong in saying this but I do believe that the inspiration behind mid scooping in metal production actually came from composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
Shostakovich’s use of alarming high register piccolo paired with low register Cello, Bass and Contrabassoon to create an aural image of a gaping chasm of hell in some of his darker symphonies based around Stalin and the Soviet Union.
I definitely feel like somewhere along the line someone incorporated the voicing into metal production to make the whole thing more sonically aggressive.

 

 

Jazz is also an incredibly broad concept. I think the key word there is concept, which kind of loosely separates it from genre distinction per se. The genre of jazz is a bit paradoxical due to the fact that it revolves around progressive experimentation, which constantly changes what ‘jazz’ means. This then results in older works becoming, debatably, disconnected to the Jazz name. For example, to a lot of younger musicians musically raised on post fusion jazz, where we’ve studied the complexities of works composed since the 1960’s, if we were to compare what we now understand as ‘jazz’ to what originally held the jazz name there would be a huge difference between the two.
For example, there are a lot of older musicians who would consider Swing to be jazz, but since it lacks a huge amount of harmonic complexities and virtuosity that I personally come to expect in jazz pieces such as Coltrane’s Giant Steps, I don’t consider Swing to be Jazz anymore.
It’s gotten too white.

 

Lounge Lizards were considered to be outside of Jazz by American magazine JazzTimes
due to their unconventional style at the time

 
While it is completely open to individual interpretation, Jazz can be characterised by harmonic complexity, virtuosic improvisation, modal composition, syncopation, ‘swung’ beats, complex time signatures, altered scales, polyrhythms, extended chords and genre crossing inclusion of world instruments mostly percussion.
Traditional Instrumentation is; Rhythm section consisting of Bass & Drums, Brass section consisting of Trumpet, Clarinet, Trombone and Saxophone, Piano & Guitar but can also include instruments as diverse as Vibraphone, Sitar, Violin, Electric Piano, Electric Drums, Congas, and Synth bass.

 

Experimental genre crossing Jazz by Mass Extinction Event

 

It is common in hybrid genres of Jazz that once combined with another genre it will take on a new name, similar to how Jazz & Hip Hop became Neo-Soul or Jazz & Samba became Bossa Nova.
With regards to Bossa Nova, in the 1960’s, Latin rhythms were becoming increasingly popular among college students at the same time that hard bop was dominating the jazz scene. When the two met it was almost universally agreed that the product, although it contained the defining samba rhythm, was no longer samba but at the same time it wasn’t Jazz, hence it received a new name.

When it comes to how much overlap there can be between completely different genres, that comes down to the imagination of the composer and also the individual opinion of every listener.
Say for example, at what point does metal get so jazzy it’s not metal anymore but instead becomes something like Progressive, Experimental Jazz? Or if you were to write something that had metal guitars, drums and bass with a brass section and piano solo like Marty Friedman’s ‘Meat Hook’ do your ears tell you you’re listening to metal or jazz or something in between?

 

 
There is also the problem of say, if we take altered scales, improvisation, polyrhythms and complex time signatures and meter changes which are signature concepts of modern Jazz, and apply them to metal, what we now have resembles existing genres Prog metal or Technical Death metal because the main timbral features of metal still remain dominant.
But that being said, there are enough people in the world who would consider bands like Chon or Animals as Leaders to be Jazz fusion whereas my ears would never make that distinction at all. But this then brings us back to the paradoxical nature of jazz as a genre.

Genre as a concept is completely flawed when you consider that everyone classes music by genre based on their own subjective opinion of what defines that particular genre.
As a short answer, I would say that the two genres can stretch into each other infinitely provided there are both conceptual and timbral factors of both genres present.

 

Thank you for reading and as always, if there is anything you want me to talk about or if you have a music related question please get in touch with me in the comments section or on the contacts page.

 

 

 

 

 

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