Tom Misch’s nu jazz is akin to running water — natural and uncontained, flowing through melodies with vibrancy and ease.
Blurring the lines between jazz, disco, hip-hop and R&B, Misch floats through the fluidity of genre and style. Since the release of his 2018 debut Geography, he has proven himself a master musician and skillful guitarist, collaborating with artists such as John Mayer and Eric Clapton. On the night of April 3, he captivated Oakland’s Fox Theater with rich artistic flair, reveling in a colorful mosaic of musical form.
A disco ball hung overhead as lone guitar strums and percussive echoes reverberated through the silence. The glittering fixture cast the illusion of a night sky, refracting light into individual, pinpointed stars. Misch humbly emerged amid the bluish glow, evoking an air of casual coolness in his white T-shirt and baggy jeans. As the crowd cheered, he let his guitar lead the way, gradually easing into the hazy, experimental “What Kinda Music.”
Rather than rushing into songs, Misch teased them out with lithe movements along the neck of his guitar. In the prelude to “Disco Yes,” the backlit glow obscured his face in shadow, foregrounding the music over the musician. As the lights rose over a retro infusion, his voice melted like warm honey — slow and smooth, settling into a sweetened groove.
Misch treated the guitar not as an instrument, but as a close companion, plucking each individual note with tenderness and compassion. Even when he textured riffs with gritty ascension, he always found his way back to a steady rhythm, stepping side to side to the sound of the beat. As dynamic melodies assumed a life of their own, they carried him along in their irresistible current. Bubbling and buoyant, Misch remained one with the perpetual flow.
During “Never Too Much / What’s the Use” from his Quarantine Sessions, Misch displayed a musical acuity that lived up to his reputation. Alone on stage, he used a loop pedal to layer rhythms and riffs one on top of the other. With his head down and his eyes closed, he attentively listened as his creation took form, fashioning multiplex melodies before the crowd’s fixed gaze.
As the song progressed, individual members of the band made their way back onto the stage. One by one, they folded into the jazzy flow, a triumphant wholeness emerging in their union. With warm and democratizing energy, Misch would pivot toward different bandmates, bobbing his head from side to side in tacit appreciation. Misch may demonstrate individual mastery, but when he’s playing with a live band, that’s when he truly shines.
Throughout his kaleidoscopic performance, Misch sprinkled in lively features from genre-bending artists Joel Culpepper and Braxton Cook. Fluttering through the upper octaves, Culpepper’s breathy falsetto paired perfectly with the disco instrumentation of “Money.” As he split center stage with Misch, he delighted the audience with goofy, fun-loving dance moves. During “Water Baby,” Cook delivered an impressive solo on his saxophone, the sound delightfully intertwining with Misch’s electric guitar as strobe lights illuminated the stage. At once familiar and fresh, the duo reinvigorated jazz with a modern touch.
Misch may not have offered much in terms of banter, but his music thoroughly bridged the gap between himself and the crowd. The sound waves ebbed and flowed across the Fox Theater floor, from the clapping of hands to the swaying of heads. Eagerly, the crowd repeated back the lyrics to “Lost in Paris” with loving adoration. Through it all, Misch embraced the unifying power of music, restoring the collective spirit lost during the pandemic.
Like the disco ball hanging overhead, Misch takes in musical forms and casts them in a new light, projecting a unique brand of nu jazz that is entirely his own. During his performance at the Fox Theater, the music organically flowed through him and into the venue, showering Oakland in dewy bliss.