Hip-hop and jazz are genres which, while not necessarily standardly associated with one another, have something of a natural affinity: that similar inclination towards boundless, exciting, uninhibited free-styling and improvisation. Think of The Roots and their bluesy, soulful off-the-cuff sounds; the sultry vibe of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz compilations; Robert Glasper’s mesmerising musical explorations; or, indeed, the slick, seamless beats and production of J Dilla.
Thus enter Londoners SumoChief, straight out of the spectacular creative hub that is Steez, bringing live instrumentation back to the forefront of the game with their new ‘Sumobeats’ EP, out last week on Lunatick Records. The sound is fresh and fairly minimalist, with pretty trills of keyboard, chilled, airy beats and sweet, fluid lines of guitar rippling over the top in track ‘1 of 1’. The sublime ‘Gator Season’ has a somewhat more urban feel, with beautiful piano samples and a perfect dusky feel which just begs to have some verses spit over the top – a sentiment that makes the reworking of the song into ‘It is What It Is’ with guest bars from MadLean a very welcome addition to the end of the EP. Slam the Poet and Cecil B Demented feature too, on the sweet and breezy ‘Segundo’, while ‘Happy Joy’ is a little odd – if gratifyingly so – with a recording of Alan Watts expounding on music interspersed throughout the pleasantly laid back, immersive melodies.
There’s a nice immediacy and freshness to their use of live instrumentation in hip-hop, and there’s something incredibly telling about the sample in ‘Gator Season’ where the speaker laments, “There’s a whole generation that attends concerts now who has no idea what live music is supposed to be about”. Sumochief could be bringing this new generation of hip-hop fans back to that exquisite rawness that only comes with live music. It’s not groundbreaking, certainly, but ‘Sumobeats’ is a welcome start: a respectful nod to those in the genre before them, and a looming promise of exciting future collaborations to meld with their crepuscular sounds.