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Five Steps: Utah Jazz

Five Steps: Utah Jazz
Jack Smith

Over the years, Utah Jazz‘ name has become ubiquitous with the sultry, funk-driven sound we can loosely define as liquid Drum & Bass, though to categorise his sound so definitively would be to also do it a huge disservice. Sample-led and just straight rolling, his sound remains true to the exploration of other musical genres that essentially birthed Jungle and Drum & Bass: taking Bukem’s reinvention of Reel By Real’s Surkit as a prime example. Also one of the few artists that has remained a mainstay of my own personal journey through Drum & Bass due to the warmth and accessibility within his sound, it’s with great pleasure to introduce Utah Jazz’ Five Steps on the eve of his fourth album release on Spearhead – Portfolio. 


Step 1: Origins

I think the first moment that sticks in my mind was hearing Alex Reece‘s ‘Pulp Fiction’ at one of the first Metalheadz / Blue Note Sessions back in around 1995 I guess (20 years ago next year – Eek!). I’d been listening to Jungle and early atmospheric D&B stuff (early Good Looking etc) before that thanks to two older record-buying brothers but ‘Pulp Fiction’ really stood out for me as something totally unparalleled at that time.

In terms of me wanting to do D&B as more than just a hobby, that really came from the DJ-ing side of things more than production. Seeing people like Bukem or Andy C live was a huge inspiration and made me think, ‘if these guys can do it then why not me’? Then it was just a question of working out a plan of action – which then paid off about 10 years later!


Step 2: Introducing

After a few collab tracks with Alex Reece from around 1999, we then released a couple of my own tracks on our own Fallen Angels 21 label. However, I’d say the first main releases came around 2003 and 2004 with ‘Jumpstart’ on Hospital Records and ‘Harlem’ on Bryan G‘s newly formed Liquid V label.

It was certainly a long process at the beginning, not least because of the technical setups back then. I had an old Mac just purely to sequence on and everything else was done in an external sampler + Mackie mixing desk. I really didn’t know what I was doing & I remember when I sent the track ‘Jumpstart’ to Tony @ Hospital, he called me back to sign it but said the automation was slightly off in places. I didn’t know what automation even was (drawing sound changes on a graph in Logic) so I had 50 post-it notes around my bedroom telling me at what points I needed to do various filters as I was doing it live by hand whilst recording to DAT!


Step 3: Foundation

I’d say the track that made my name was probably ‘Runaway’ on Liquid V. The samples just worked so well together and I was really getting to get my own style and know my way around Logic. I was getting really stuck into trying to layer different samples over each other & get them sitting right as opposed to just one main funk loop throughout the tune.

After that, my remix of Roni Size ‘It’s a Jazz Thing’ was probably the biggest track I’ve done recognition-wise. It was all over Radio 1, V Recordings’ biggest selling single of the year and it went into the UK dance charts too.




Step 4: Present 

I’ve worked with Steve in the past with a couple of solo tracks on Spearhead and I’ve always got on with him well. Rumour has it I might’ve got him just a little bit drunk when we shared a bottle of Jagermeister @ an Antwerp City Flow tour gig in Belgium – I felt guilty so offered him the LP for Spearhead in way of an apology!

But in all seriousness, Steve’s been doing great things with the label and the timing just worked well for me too. I had written most of the LP last summer before my daughter was born in October and because I was concentrating more on family stuff for 6 months, it made more sense to me to offer the LP to a label who would be more on the ball in terms of promo etc. and giving the project the push it needs.

In terms of the time delay, I tend to have quite long breaks between producing just to try and keep things fresh and interesting for me. I work fairly quickly when I’m on the case (3-4 tunes per week, sometimes more) so I get large batches done, followed by long breaks whilst on tour DJing and then I try to get a new LP out every couple of years.


Step 5: Future

Here’s my track ‘Live Your Live’ from the new LP:

I enjoyed this one as it’s a bit different to many of my others. It’s written @ 165bpm and the beats / structure are all a bit off which hopefully adds to the character of the tune.

Other than that, I’ll be touring the LP (DJ sets) throughout the rest of the year and into 2015. So that and an 8 month old daughter is more than enough to keep me busy! Then hopefully I’ll get back into the studio next year…

Urban Essential? Probably our UppaBaby Vista buggy which has done over 1000 miles in North London and counting! I could get used to being a house husband 😉


Utah Jazz – Portolio LP is out 21st July on Spearhead Records – pre-order the vinyl at a ludicrous £9.99 via Spearhead’s official store.