Former Medeski, Martin & Wood DJ gets ill

More a process than a static entity, jazz is the body snatcher of the music world, perpetually in search of a timely host.

Jazz has a way of swallowing contemporary styles whole — creating soul-jazz in the '60s, greasy, funk fusion in the '70s and synth-oriented smooth jazz in the '80s — but hip-hop has largely been elusive, the jewel that won't quite fit into the crown. Sure, there was Guru's Jazzmatazz and A Tribe Called Quest, and saxophonist Greg Osby has tried his hand at a jazz-hop synthesis, but these efforts rarely transcended a level of token acknowledgement. Which is strange because the beat sampling, record spinning and labyrinthine vocal flows of hip-hop in many ways represent not another trend to be conquered, but rather an incarnation of jazz itself. And if the aim of jazz is to integrate styles and influences, the turntable — reinvented as a performance tool by the hip-hop vanguard — is possibly the quintessential jazz instrument. For the DJ, musical influences are as immediate as a nearby record crate, pulled out of a paper sleeve and incorporated directly from the source. Hip-hop DJs mix and sample jazz records the way jazz musicians drop bits of soul and funk (and even hip-hop) into their melodic vocabulary.

In this jazz/hip-hop boxing match for stylistic leverage, New York's DJ Logic is a promoter, referee and round-card girl — at once instigator, mediator and musical seducer. Logic's work in the late '90s with jazz trio Medeski, Martin & Wood showcased his ability to use the turntable and hip-hop sensibilities in the service of jazz. More recent work with his own act, Project Logic, however, treads the waters somewhere in between those musical municipalities. Whether Project Logic is an example of jazz using hip-hop, or hip-hop using jazz, Logic's message is the same — the next era of DJ composer has arrived.

"Turntablists are kicking it to a whole other level as instrumentalists," says Logic. "The turntable has always been an instrument, and I'm trying to show the range of that instrument, besides just spinning records. I believe you can be a natural-born musician who performs on turntables."

While the idea of DJ as ensemble member has been around for a while (and has become almost obligatory in the latest generation of thrash-rap fluff), Project Logic represents a movement toward the turntable as focal point, supplanting its familiar role as a glorified, tagged-on sound effect machine. DJ Logic takes the stand-alone compositional mentality of a club DJ, then uses live instrumentation to add texture to his set.

"With Medeski, Martin & Wood I was more of a supporting player," Logic says. "It was fun playing with them, because they let me be really free. They felt comfortable with me adding the colors into the tracks. With my band, there is more of a directional role. I'm using the other band members like records, in a way."

While "using the other band members like records," might sound like rigid DJ rhetoric, Logic's background in band situations goes back to the '80s and his early teens.

"I created my vocabulary by starting off young," he says. "I jumped into the whole live thing when a drummer friend wanted me to come and try it out with his alternative rock band. When I first sat in, I tried to figure out my way around. I listened to what the guitar, bass and drums were doing. I basically learned how music in that setting was played out."

It wasn't long before Logic was forging a voice on his instrument and bringing that voice to its most wide-open outlet — jazz. "I've been involved with jazz for a long time. But I definitely see myself as a hip-hop person and a jazz person, and a whole lot of things combined. I do it all; I've tested the waters in everything. All of that music — I try to combine it into one."

This knack for synthesizing different types of recorded music, while creating a unique lyrical voice of his own on the turntables, could make a strong case for DJ Logic and his breed as the ultimate destination for jazz and hip-hop. This next-generation style is a potent combination of internally and externally incorporated influences.

"I'm influenced by both DJs and instrumentalists. I always wanted to be a DJ, and then once I learned how to DJ, I started looking at musicians and how they played a role with their instruments. That's how I just took everything further. I put the two together and came up doing something creative with it."

Project Logic performs at the Masquerade on Thurs., Sept. 21.