Ahead of Matthew Herbert’s appearance at EB presents Jazzfest Bonn, we compiled a list of five records—long players and stand out tracks—which demonstrate the British producer’s characteristically off-beam excursions into the world of jazz.
The output of British electronic musician and pathological innovator Matthew Herbert is as broad as any musician working today. Covering the realms of classical, house, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Herbert was appointed creative director in 2012) and jazz, he skewers existing musical orthodoxy through his will to experiment. It’s a will embodied within his own manifesto, the P.C.C.O.M where self-imposed limitations (no drum machine, no sampling from existing music, etc.) encourage a climate of inventiveness throughout his work. Now, with his project Matthew Herbert Big Band gearing up to perform at EB presents Jazzfest Bonn in June, the time seemed ripe to pick our favorite jazz-informed moments from his oeuvre.
Bodily Functions (2001)
It’s hard to choose a single cut from Herbert’s 2001 masterwork Bodily Functions—so we didn’t. The samples, many of which sourced from the human body (blood flow, laser eye surgery, the noises emanating from an unborn baby), make up the record’s palette. While that sounds weird, it doesn’t sound weird; from this organic palette Herbert architects a kind of middle point between deep house and swing, with lilting grooves and longtime collaborator Dani Siciliano’s unhurried vocals finding perfect rhyme in the unorthodox textures.
“Meaning of Love” (Matthew Herbert remix) by Karin Krog (2002)
Matthew Herbert’s version of “Meaning of Love” by famous Norwegian jazz singer Karin Krog demonstrates the producer’s originality. The addition of a 4/4 kick and the close cropping of the instrumental flourishes—reapplied as cut-up percussion—should hamper the original’s free flow. Instead, the rhythmic detailing provides a center of gravity around which lounge-y chords and Krog’s voice are allowed to orbit, to gorgeous effect.
“Fiction” from Goodbye Swingtime (2003)
Goodbye Swingtime was the first full-length under the Matthew Herbert Big Band moniker. The implicit jazz influences that had hitherto informed his work were pushed to the fore thanks to the deployment of a full jazz band (as opposed to Bodily Functions’ combo). On record, “Fiction” is a collaboration with singer, guitarist, producer and EB contributor Arto Lindsay with hints of the Brazilian music he grew up with, Tropicália. The video above is an instrumental version taken from the live performance at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.
“Brother, Where Are You” (Matthew Herbert remix) – Oscar Brown Jr. (2003)
Unlike his rework of Karen Krog, Herbert’s re-edits to this piece from 1973 are comparatively subtle. Herbert samples the piano refrain and loping beat at the heart of the song and loops it throughout, providing a tighter, more driving groove. Proof that not all Herbert’s work is bound to concepts—the most exciting thing about this track is its simplicity.
“The Story” from There’s Me and There’s You (2008)
The opening cut from 2008’s There’s Me and There’s You, the follow-up Matthew Herbert Big Band album. As with so much of Herbert’s work, there’s a strong political charge running through it, should you wish to look for it. Here, the record as a whole dealt with the abuse of power, while this track in particular took the sound of rustling newspapers as its concréte basis (a somewhat prescient gesture in light of the Leveson equiry). Eska Mtungwazi provides the vocals. ~