DeepSoul's look at Acid Jazz continues with Jamiroquai, a longtime UK band that found, unfortunately, fleeting success in America. Say the name, and two images will immediately leap to mind: lead singer Jay Kay sliding all over a room in the "Virtual Insanity" video, or the insane dancing scene in Napoleon Dynamite which uses their song "Canned Heat." In the UK, Jamiroquai became Acid Jazz pioneers as early as 1992, and they have evolved as fierce live performers.
Kay formed the group in the early nineties, combining jazz with rap and 1970s soul. After hearing his demo, the Acid Jazz label signed them, releasing their first single in 1992: "When You Gonna Learn?" Their subsequent album Emergency on Planet Earth became a massive UK hit, although America would not discover them until their third album, 1996's Traveling without Moving. The highly original video for "Virtual Insanity" drew MTV's attention, eventually yielding Jamiroquai a top 40 hit. In-group squabbling delayed their fourth album; this gap seemed to kill their momentum in the US. Thus 1999's Synkronized flopped in America, but still performed well in Europe. The album is worth another listen, as it contains some stellar Acid Jazz tracks besides the neo-disco "Canned Heat." Despite constantly changing lineups, Kay has continued recording and embarks on worldwide tours. Numerous clips of their jazz-infused live performances exist on YouTube, and are well worth watching.
To fully appreciate Jamiroquai, one must go back to their beginnings: in this case, their first album Emergency on Planet Earth. Their funky brand of jazz and R&B combine perfectly on the track (and second single) "Too Young to Die," cowritten by Kay and Toby Smith. Essentially an anti-war song, it warns politicians to "keep your distance" because " So many people / All around the world / Seen their brothers fry." As the title states, people fighting unjust wars are "too young to die." While these are familiar sentiments, it's the retro soul arrangement and jazz-like scatting that distinguish this track from others. Just try not to hum along to Kay's scatting," and his crystal-clear vocals give added weight to each word. " What's the answer / To our problems / I think we've gone too high," he cries, the fast tempo and popping bass underscoring his frustration.
While the album version of "Too Young to Die" remains a standout, the track particularly shines live. The clip below shows Jamiroquai performing the song in London in March 1994. In this version the drummer incorporates more percussion into the song, while the horn section blares like something out of a Stevie Wonder record. The sax solo, however, is steeped in jazz. In other words, "Too Young to Die" is the living definition of Acid Jazz's essence. Spend time exploring Jamiroquai's catalog and discover what we in America unfairly overlooked.