Constantly on the hunt for new music, my tastes shift from Behemoth to Miles Davis. Metal is great but can be a little difficult to write to for some people. The most obvious complaint is that the lyrics can get in the way of story. Worst case scenario, or best case depending on your perspective, the vocals can actually worm their way into your scenes, even your dialogue. Instrumental music remedies that quite nicely, and most streaming services have more than enough film scores to keep you busy forever. And then there’s dark jazz, or jazz noir. If you’re thinking of a smoky bar, dimmed lighting, and desperate people playing dangerous games, you’re close, but dark jazz is much more than some film noir scene with a sax playing in the background. Mixing traditional and electronic instrumentation, dark jazz is about as varied as most all kinds of jazz and electronica, yet instantly sets a mood that’s different than listening to traditional jazz.
Typing dark jazz or jazz noir into search on Apple Music isn’t going to yield many results, or even point you in the right direction. Same for Spotify and Amazon Unlimited. For that, you need a starting point, and an excellent band for that is Bohren & der Club of Gore. This German band, founded in 1992, describe themselves as an “unholy ambient mixture of slow jazz ballads, Black Sabbath doom and down tuned Autopsy sounds”. That’s an apt description, but don’t think because they mention ambient that their music is nothing more than low tone drones overlaid with funky bass lines. The key word here is jazz, and it’s a major presence of their sound. Releasing several albums through the decades, the band has shifted through the years, with members coming and going, as well as guest musicians working with them such as Mike Patton (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Fantômas, Tomahawk), yet maintained their same musical style.
Another excellent starting point is The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble (TKDE). Their formation is actually quite cool, essentially starting as a band project to write music for old silent movies. Sadly, they broke up in 2014, but their albums are still available on most streaming services. A side-project, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation formed from this band around 2007, performing live while playing musical chairs with members. Often described as sludgy, dark, and heavy, TKDE and its live side-project relied more on improvisation and spontaneity, sliding into long-form jam sessions which only happen when musicians work with each other constantly, everyone capable of anticipating the ebb and flow of the music.
Other bands of mention are Heroin and Your Veins, which sounds like the bizarre mix of surf rock and jazz with David Lynch at the mixing board; Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones, which is more on the ambient side, but still definitely jazz; and Blackfilm, a recent favorite find, which is definitely a harder blend of ambient and jazz. The thing about searching through these bands online is that when you hit the ‘related artists’ link, the rabbit hole is deep and wide, though your experience can easily slip into the more popular ambient classification. And ambient music is definitely not a bad thing, just not the same as dark jazz. When you combine ambient sounds and jazz, it’s a sound that’s instantly recognizable, and when you hear it done right, there’s no mistaking it. The mood, the texture intensity, the whole atmosphere, can really lend itself to an awesome soundtrack to write your darkest scenes.