San Francisco's Jazz Mafia is a confederation of musicians who perform in a number of different configurations, ranging from solo acts to a full-scale orchestra. Last year, Jazz Mafia outfit The Shotgun Wedding Quintetperformed at the Monterey Jazz Festival to a strongly polarized audience. While some thought that the band's music was "nothing even remotely related to jazz" and lambasted their use of hip-hop influences, stating "When jazz mafia combine some jazz with rap music, There is no jazz there!!!!!!!" new fans contended that the band were "incredibly skilled composers and arrangers, and they fuse genres because they can do it so well."
This year it was clear: the Jazz Mafia has found its audience at the Monterey Jazz Festival. There was an air of palpable excitement in Dizzy's Den as they approached jazz with crackling energy and a deep connection with the audience. They declared themselves confidently to the world with the sweeping symphony "Brass, Bows and Beats" and garnered a standing ovation from the enraptured audience.
This configuration of the band was comprised of over 40 musicians, including a full string section, seven vocalists, and a turntablist. The band combined a punk-rock spirit and exceptional musical talent for a performance that was edgy and innovative without losing its jazz roots.
Bandleader Adam Theis and the rest of the Jazz Mafia showed they are masters at synthesizing elements that are normally in opposition. The sprawling band juxtaposed discipline and freedom, sounding incredibly tight while feeling easy and loose. The fully orchestral composition didn't just use the string section for show, nor did it skew into an overload of traditional classical; as a fierce violin duet showed, these string players are also actual jazz musicians. They didn't just appropriate hip-hop to use it as a condiment in jazz, nor did they try to add depth to hip-hop with jazz elements; they found a sweet spot where those two forms flowed together naturally.
If you're worried about the graying of jazz, listening to the Jazz Mafia will put your mind at ease. "Brass, Bows and Beats" is a truly epic achievement and an exciting evolution in the world of jazz.
For more information on the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our Monterey Jazz Festival page. For coverage of the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, see all our Monterey Jazz Festival posts. For more photos from this and other performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival, see our 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival set on Flickr.