This isn't jazz, it's Nerve
Jojo Mayer brings his traveling Prohibited Beatz party to Prague
Posted: March 26, 2009
Reverse-engineering is the term drummer Jojo Mayer uses to describe his New York-based group Nerve, whose live sound is inspired by electronic beats. However, their sound isn't a matter of just copying electronica. Rather, the band uses the structures of drum 'n' bass, dub-step, etc., to create a framework for improvisation.
Mayer, who was born in Zurich in 1963, has lived in New York City since 1991, where at the age of 18 he joined legendary jazz pianist Monty Alexander's group and toured the biggest jazz festivals in Europe, including Montreux, Antibes and the North Sea Jazz Festival. With this exposure, he was soon invited to play backup with Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie and other big names.
Since this initiation, however, Mayer has played mainly with more avant-jazz and funk groups like David Fiuczynski's Screaming Headless Torsos, Vernon Reid's My Science Project and the Vienna Art Orchestra or just their saxophonist, Harry Sokal. Over the years, he has also become a staple at jazz and rock drummer conventions, festivals, clinics and workshops.
Mayer confides that he's weary of using the term "jazz" these days. "I don't want to discredit some honestly good music out there, but I'm highly suspicious of anything that still chooses to carry the label 'jazz' today," he says. "Jazz is classical music now. … It's become an art form. And when something becomes an art form, its cultural relevance becomes expired. The discipline and theater of it become more important than any cultural meaning it actually might have, or had."
When: Monday, March 30, at 9
Where: Lucerna Music Bar
Tickets: 300-320 Kč, available through Ticketpro and at the venue
In this light, Mayer's Nerve is definitely an experiment, co-produced with a fellow Swiss musician as a sound engineer. But Roli Mosimann does more than typical engineers, as he closely interacts with the band, using the mixing board like an instrument. The musicians provide the initial input, and Mosimann takes care of the output, adding delay or feeding back the sound in an altered way. The process goes on as an interaction or real-time audio deconstruction.
"I've known Mosimann since I was just a kid," says Mayer. "We lost track for almost 20 years when he left Switzerland in the late '70s, then we ran into each other again after I moved to New York." Mosimann is also a drummer, and an original member of the No Wave group Swans. He has produced groups like That Petrol Emotion, New Order and The Young Gods, as well as electro-industrial legends Skinny Puppy and noise-rocker Marilyn Manson.
Other members of Nerve include Tacuya Nakamura (from Japan) on synthesizer, sampler and trumpets, and John Davis on bass and low frequency manipulation. This collective is a spin-off of Mayer's infamous performance/party events in New York City, called Prohibited Beatz, which actively involve the audience, venue, musicians, DJs, visuals - all organized by Mayer.
"It's a party," he says. But Nerve on tour can become a party, too. "It happened before that in the course of a Nerve gig, people took initiative and rearranged some jazz club into a steaming hell-hole," Mayer recalls. "In Poland once, a promoter made the mistake of putting up bistro tables for a seated audience. About 50 kids who wanted to dance created a contemporary sculpture out of them in about 90 seconds."
Given that, it's better to leave your expectations at home. "The less people expect to come to a jazz concert, the more likely they might experience a Prohibited Beatz moment," Mayer says. "It's up to them. We will be there.
"As for myself, I'm trying to stay alert and pay attention to subcultural and anti-cyclic occurrences. As Frank Zappa said, 'By the time you can buy T-shirts about something, it probably has lost its relevance.' My hope is to bring something to people that they can experience and be a part of before it gets printed on T-shirts."
Tony Ozuna can be reached at
Tags: Tony Ozuna, Jojo Mayer, Prohibited Beatz, concert.