Thursday, January 29, 2004

Junior Jazz in Japan

The unfolding adventures of Eline Van Coillie, aka Junior Jazz:

In early January, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's biggest daily newspaper with 10 million readers, published an interview of Eline. This has apparently stirred up quite an interest for the little Belgian and her album will be released in Japan.

Admitting your addiction is the first step on the road to recovery

The funniest line of SEVEN PHASES IN THE LIFE OF A HARD-CORE COLLECTOR (sorry to spoil the fun):

Phase 7: Maturity. If you're lucky, you may get this far. You realize that it's not necessary to own 50 Beethoven cycles, 46 of which you never play, when you can be just as happy with 20 of them, 16 of which you never play.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Acid jazz flash

It is rather incredible, and even a little bit disturbing to read this in January 2004, especially in a student newspaper:

Those who are familiar with the late versions of acid jazz will know these musicians very well: US3, Jazzanova, Incognito, Groove Collective, Brand New Heavies, St.Germain or Brooklyn Funk Essentials. All of these bands have raised the standards of the genre to such a high level that no other band without sufficient knowledge and experience of jazz can survive. The listeners are not only known for their loyalty, but they are also very picky and even priggish to some extent. Many bands who thought they could survive and look just as cool as Bluey of Incognito in the industry have been kicked out immediately. It is not an easy territory to operate in; it is very selective, indeed.

Oddly enough, this genre has been dominated by the English. Moreover, the record label 'Talkin' Loud' has gathered almost everyone in the field, building another barrier to entry. This poses a question. Assuming all I just jotted above is true, do you think a German band from Dusseldorf who does not even ask for electronic assistance can survive? The answer is yet to come, but listening to 'Xaver Fischer Trio' might make you realize that this is not just a random band with a modest bit of a talent.

US3? Talkin' Loud??? Talk about a blast from the past. Also, calling St. Germain or US3 (I don't know the others) "high level" and necessitating "sufficient knowledge and experience of jazz" is laughable. Not that I don't like them, but come on. One would assume college students writing about music to be hipper than this.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Why You Can't Learn to Like It

Why is it that most people writing about saving classical music invariably sound hopelessly out-of-touch (hopelessly because they do not seem to realise that they are out of touch)?

Bernard Holland answers Why You Can't Learn to Like It. His out-of-touchness is clearly expressed when he says:

Schools have not done a good job of passing classical music along, and popular culture has grown hugely powerful. Mozart's music remains central for the enclaves that still embrace it. But set against the avalanche of rock recordings and concerts, Mozart is for the world at large - despite wishful thinking - a fringe, not a center.

Music, for the last two generations more than at any earlier time, has become for lawyers and day laborers alike almost an expression of current events, a form of self-definition both moral and political. It is perfectly reasonable to argue that music 200 years old possesses qualities that bear deeply on our immediate world. It still does for a lot of us, but tell that to the young people pouring into rock concerts around the country.

I wonder: was 16th century music at the centre of the lives of those who listened to Mozart in the last part of the 18th? And when was music not "an expression of current events, a form of self-definition both moral and political"? Perhaps that's part of classical music's problem, eh Mr. Holland? Perhaps he does not see this because in this article he puts forward an incredibly stunted view of the world of music (European classical vs. "rock").

Furthermore, who was Mozart's audience? It clearly was not "the people":

With that, the floodgates were opened and the invitations poured in. Because each appearance was rewarded -- the empress sent an honorarium of 100 ducats -- Leopold tried to arrange as many concerts as many as possible. "Today we were at the French Ambassador's. Tomorrow we are invited to Count Harrach's from four to six, but which Count Harrach he is I do not know. I shall see where the carriage takes us to," Leopold wrote. "The nobles send us their invitations four, five, six to eight days in advance, in order not to miss us."
(The Mozart Project, referring to the early 1760s)

In 1787, Mozart was appointed to the post of Kammercmusicus, although the salary did little to lessen the couple's financial hardships. The post required Mozart to compose dance music for court balls.

And yet, Holland makes a good point regarding how one appreciates music:

I don't understand an elm tree, but give me the right one, and I like to sit under it. Knowing its biology may help, but the heart is not a biologist.

In other words, "Ya like what ya like." So why doesn't he apply this thinking to today's popular music, which he subsumes under the banner of "rock"? Superficial (or rather, non-existent) attempts at understanding a contemporary music world that has shunted classical music aside is not going to advance any crusade to "save" it.

Pop crit: what is it good for?

"Absolutely nothing!" bellows Phil Freeman over at Bagatellen.

The meat of the article is summed up in this paragraph:

But the pop edifice remains impassive, impenetrable. The pop industry is as indifferent to its sycophants as it is to its would-be assassins. The only time the industry registers concern is when sales drop, and there’s no demonstrable correlation between reviews and sales. (This isn’t a purely music-biz phenomenon, either; The Cat In The Hat, to pick but one example, did land-office business despite uniformly, unrelentingly savage write-ups.) On the other hand, a well-placed review of a struggling death-metal band can mean the difference between 5000 and 10,000 CDs sold, and that’s no small difference.

See also comments at bottom of page.

This article has garnered a lot of attention in the blogosphere, but it also underlines the problematic nature of pop criticism that bothers Freeman so much. In the article in question, a damning survey of the music of 1985, we read this methodology:

I have based the following on three sources:

1. The Gallup UK Top 40 singles charts of 1985. All singles to enter the Top 40 during 1985 are listed thus:
Single: title (date of chart entry | highest chart position reached)

2. The NME critics end-of-year Top 50 singles chart, entries in which are listed as:
Single: title (NME | position ranked in chart)

3. The NME critics end-of-year Top 50 album chart, similarly listed:
Album: title (NME | position ranked in chart)

Do these sources really stake out enough of the music world to justify the screaming, Comic Book Store Guy headline 1985: THE WORST YEAR FOR MUSIC EVER? I think not.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Return of the Queen

A Norah Jones ain't-she-modest hagiography. The main interest of the article is that you can listen to "Sunrise," her new single. Sounds more produced than anything on Come Away With Me (cf. the vocal arrangements) and less catchy than "Don't Know Why." Among all the touchy-feely stuff, there's only one comment on the album itself:

And, in fact, some of the songs were truly gorgeous. But overall an alt-country orthodoxy seemed to rule: it was heavy on the twang, light on the torch.

A thought that crosses my mind, after having done a lot of listening to Cassandra Wilson's latest album, Glamoured, also on Blue Note: Jones is kind of like a white version of Wilson. Jones uses a lot of the same elements as Wilson (acoustic guitar, percussion), at least on "Sunrise" and both have a kind of cross-over, genre-hopping appeal (Jones's being much bigger, obviously).

Tangentially, it's painful to hear the article's author Rob Hoerburger refer to Blue Note as a boutique jazz label.

That Special German Sound

Interesting comments by conductor Daniel Barenboim on "german-ness" in this NY Times article:

"When the strings attack a note, they play with less attack than one hears often today from other orchestras, and sustain it much more," he said. "It's the difference between someone punching you in the nose and someone putting his fist on your nose and applying pressure to it. This kind of impact has very much to do with German sound."

The reason for this, he says, is partly mechanical. "If you compare German instruments with non-German instruments — a German clarinet as opposed to a French clarinet; a German Steinway from Hamburg as opposed to an American Steinway — the instruments themselves have much more resistance," he said. "They resist the player trying to play them: in the flow of air, or the weight of the key, you feel a kind of resistance of the instrument, which makes the sound less harsh and less direct. It's a little bit like the sound of the German language; you go through the whole process of the consonants, and the weight of the consonants, until you get to the bloody vowel.

"Schwer," he added, the German word for heavy, emphasizing the opening consonants, to demonstrate.

Lyrical spam

Found posted on Jazz Corner, the contents of a spam e-mail. The more I look at them, the more I'm convinced they would make awesome Radiohead-style lyrics: they have that unsettling feeling of being just on the wrong side of making sense, while maintaining an eerie overall logic.

I was going to wait a while before we talked about this. We have certain immutable properties. I have a splitting migraine. I could speak english or spanish but instead I use my telepathy.

Help me ! I'm trapped in an e-mail factory! Never deal with roosters that look like monkeys.

Okay, let's do this right. It's scary, I have to admit. I see your point. I don't want to be predictable.

I had fun when we talked on Tuesday. Hey--I don't disagree with you.Does the universe remember? Probably. I was going to wait a while before we talked about this. This will end well. Never deal with roosters that look like monkeys.

The ratio of signal to noise has decreased significantly. I feel pretty incoherent today; sorry if this is confusing.This is ultimately no worse than television. I could speak english or spanish but instead I use my telepathy.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Michel Herr interview

A Michel Herr interview.

Michel is a very nice guy, and definitely one of the Belgian jazz musicians recognised throughout Europe. In the interview he comes across as a bit more soft-spoken than he is in reality. He also is co-webmaster to Jazz in Belgium, which is how I met him. I still wonder how he finds time (and has found time for the last 7 years) for it all.

Dom Minasi/Europe and America

This article on guitarist Dom Minasi is quite interesting in detailing what the life path of an ordinary musician can be. As you may have gathered by now, I like that kind of thing.

Minasi dryly claims:

Don't kid yourself. A lot of jazz guys do weddings. They just don't talk about it.

That reminded me of what Belgian bassist Nic Thys, who spent several years living in NYC, said in an interview published in the March/April/May 2003 issue of the Flemish Jazz Mozaïek magazine:

One day you're in a club such as Birdland, the next you'e in a bar, a pizzeria or a coffee-house. I do it all, and it's nothing to be ashamed about. I know musicians who make lots of money playing in Europe, but play for $30 in a New York café. Jeff 'Tain' Watts, David Kikoski, Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau are all on that circuit.
(translation from Dutch mine)

I'm always highly amused when American musicians continue to entertain the cliché that Europe is such a welcoming place for jazz. Welcoming to touring Americans, perhaps, but much less so for the average (or even, very good) local player or long-time US expats (ask Steve Lacy about how much he played in Paris during his 30 years there). I got to see the Dave Holland Big Band for 13 euros in Antwerp, but to see an upcoming Paris Jazz Big Band gig in Paris, I would have to shell out well over double that amount.

Sales lists suggest that European publics consume pretty much the same things as their US counterparts (with some local flavour thrown in, of course) and jazz probably has a similarly low market share.

The main difference seems to be that European countries (Belgium and, despite recent legislative reform, France, at least) have better benefit systems for musicians (and others working in artistic fields) and more government subsidies (but far fewer private grants).

I really want the myth of Europe as the great haven of jazz lovers and more educated audiences to die.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Whatcha Ghana do?

Kyle Gann relates to us a bit of information he learnt recently:

Ghana has become the first country to charge royalties for use of its culture's indigenous music. In other words, if you visit Ghana, learn a traditional tune, and go back and use that tune on a recording or concert, you'll owe some fee to the state of Ghana.

"Les Noirs Marchant"

"Les Noirs Marchant" was composed by Andrew Hill, played by Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Sam Rivers (tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet and flute) Andrew Hill (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums), was recorded on April 3 1965 and released on Bobby Hutcherson's Dialogue for Blue Note. I'm listening to the 2002 RVG Edition.

"Dialogue" as a whole highlights the advantages of the 40-minute time limit imposed by LPs: there is absolutely no pressure to add filler, so the original 5 performances are of a high caliber and, just as importantly, of a piece. The bonus track tacked on to the RVG Edition, a swinging blues called "Jasper," puts the unity of the original album in bold relief: "Jasper" may serve as a release for the tension accumulated over the course of the previous 5 ambiguous and unsettled tracks, but that is perhaps a disservice, allowing the listener to take a comfortable leave from an album that should be prickly.

"Les Noirs Marchant" struck me for two reasons: its title and what I see as its political subtext. The title, first, sounds like the title of a painting. Literally, it means "The Blacks Marching," but A.B. Spellman, in the original liner notes, translates it as "The Blacks' March" and misspells it as "Les Noirs Marchent," which means "The Blacks Are Marching." I'm not sure which meaning was intended by Hill, but the nuances are subtle enough for this not to be a big issue.

Second, this composition seems to me heavily politicised, so much so that I am surprised neither the original nor the re-issue liner notes mention this aspect. At most, Spellman points out that the piece is "played in march time" and that the group follows "a given path which opens up into something very much like freedom." Perhaps he had caught its political tenor, but felt it too dangerous to mention in liner notes, in 1965. In 2001, Bob Blumenthal notes only that it "provides an example of collective improvisation made coherent by its focus on rhythmic variation."

The political elements come from several musical sources, which are bleak in their outlook, aggressive and even war-like. The first is, most obviously, Chambers's martial snare pattern, which opens the piece and recurs at strategic points throughout. A few minutes in, this snare pattern re-surfaces, threatening to explode, but fades away, heightening tension. Just after the five minute mark, the charge hinted at earlier finally occurs in a quick group outburst, which leads to a recap of the theme, but with a new triumphant swagger: a jubilant return from the battlefield. Second, there are Hubbard's opening phrases in the improvised section, which sound like a bugle's call-to-arms. Third, at various times Carter and/or Hill play regular two-note patterns (overall, the performance seems to hover between 2, 3 and unmetered rhythm) that could be evocations of war drums or the steady thud-thud of the two timpani-like drums played on boats long ago to synchronise the movements of the rowers. Fourth, and more generally, the collective improvisation sketches a barren, craggy wasteland and a fierce mood, as in Hill's low register rumblings at its beginning or Rivers's acidic flute interjections.

Add to these elements the title itself. In 1965, the image of Blacks marching could evoke either slaves, heads bowed and feet chained, Civil Rights protestors or the armies of newly independent African countries, marching for the first time under their own flags. "Les Noirs Marchant" ends inconclusively, leaving a huge question mark hanging above us. Is Hill questioning the validity of war path chosen in this song, or is he asking "after triumph (as expressed in the out-head), what now?"

While neither a rousing popular anthem nor a full-on sonic assault on society's injustices, "Les Noirs Marchant" does make a strong statement on freedom, the means through which it is to be acquired and the new questions it raises, once obtained.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

FME (Vandermark / McBride / Nilssen-Love)

As a complement to the concert linked to below, you might enjoy reading this review of a recent Chicago performance of Ken Vandermark's FME group, with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love.

Thoughts on Kelefa Sanneh

It suddenly struck me that something about the topic of the Kelefa Sanneh article discussed below sounded more like an internet message board topic than a newspaper article. Which doesn't mean it's not a good article, as I said, I liked it a lot. Sanneh sounds fairly young in the audio accompaniment to the article, so maybe participating in message boards is as much part of his musical discussion culture as more formal training.


People discuss and rate 20 relatively recent hit singles: Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group 8.

Kind of interesting. For example, the Black Eyed Peas' "Where Is The Love?" pretty much everything from 10/10 to 0/10 and places 16th with a 3.48/10 overall rating.

Some of those single covers are really disturbing, though (Busted, Girls Aloud). Maybe not disturbing, but I find it amazing that whoever designed them didn't realise that they screamed "pick this up in a cut-out bin in three years and shudder at the bad old days gone by." Except that in my case, make three years right now.

The very concept of S Club 8 boggles my mind in a rather unpleasant way.

The winner: pfff...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Ken Vandermark's School Days - live

After an excellent Dave Holland concert, BBC's Jazz on 3 is now hosting a School Days concert, a group consisting of Chicagoans Ken Vandermark (reeds) and Jeb Bishop (trombone), the Swede Kjell Nordeson (vibes) and Norwegians Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). You may remember the last two from such albums as Atomic's Boom Boom and Feet Music.

The present concert is that brand of accessible, energetic, fun-loving and free-wheeling 60s free jazz inspired music Vandermark loves so much. In a sense, it's not so much free jazz as looser and more ragged hard bop, with earthiness to spare and in which swing is not sacrificed on the altar of "freedom" or "sound exploration."

The three main soloists contrast nicely, as Vandermark likes to slip'n'slide'n'squeak'n'honk, whereas Bishop is more straight-forward and strong tone and Nordeson is suitably coloristic and ambiguous (his comping is often reduced to a stunted riff, which often seems to go playfully against the harmonic direction of the piece). The rhythm duo provide incessant drive and energy, it's a shame they are so low in the mix.

I was somewhat distressed to learn, in the interview preceding the concert, that Paal Nilssen-Love (featured in the January 2004 issue of The Wire) faced a life-threathening illness last year. Thankfully, it sounds like he's back at full strength.

The Sweet Sounds of Really Bad Singing

The NY Times's Kelefa Sanneh is usually a good read, and is in particularly good form in The Sweet Sounds of Really Bad Singing.

However, I can't really agree that what he identifies as a trend for bad singers is particularly new. Lou Reed was no vocal virtuoso. And Billie Holiday didn't have huge chops either, she won them over with her idiosyncrasies and depth of interpretation. Although, Holiday isn't a "bad singer" in the way that, say, Pharrell Williams or 50 Cent are, of course.

Kyle Gann's 4 minutes of Cage

From his blog:

Contrary to some popular belief, 4'33" is not four minutes of silence, nor four minutes of outraged audience protest: it is four minutes of unintended, accidental sound considered as music, a frame placed around a random set of noises. It shows the arbitrariness of how we decide to perceive something as art. It begins to attune us to our sonic environment, to disable the filters we keep in place to ignore our daily life. It is such a whimsical, wise, harmless, cheerful, edifying, non-commercial gesture. So I'm thrilled the BBC broadcast the piece over the radio (see the story here), and shocked that, 51 years after it became part of music history, there are still people who can think Cage was trying to pull something over on the world. What he was trying to pull over on you, mate, was your own damn life. Take a listen to it sometime.

Make sure to click on the link and read the comments below the article.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Focus - Lint 18/01/2004

The first concert of the year was an unexpected one: I went to see Dutch 70s prog-rock group Focus with my girlfriend's family. Her parents invited us.

I felt the first set a bit over-blown: songs containing relatively simple elements divided up into endlessly repeated sections, some slightly embarrassing baroque licks on guitar, a 5/4 hammered out on drums... at times I felt like shouting out "Cut the crap and get to the song!"

The second set was more direct, as they played older, shorter songs. Still, the proclivity for treacly "soaring," long note guitar melodies remained. There was a cool moment when leader Thijs Van Leer (the only original member left, I think) did an unaccompanied melodica (playing light-hearted stuff), flute (a little classical for ya) and vocal (funny nonsense) segment, before running back to his Hammond organ. It made me wonder how expensive a melodica is: I really want to get one.

The highlight of the concert, for me, came right at the beginning, in discovering that the organ (a 16th-note run up a B minor triad) and guitar (slow, spacey notes hovering around the tonic) had been appropriated (and not been credited!) by Outkast for "Wheelz of Steel" (from ATLiens, an absolutely fantastic album, about which I hope to write soon) from Focus's "Focus III," the first song of the concert. One could get mad, but "Wheelz of Steel" is a much better song than "Focus III"...


I know that saying this will inevitably make me sound like a fuddy-duddy, but the concert was needlessly loud. Surely, when in relatively quiet sections, such as guitar-organ interludes, speaker buzz turns it into a trio, someone, somewhere must surely think "Something's wrong here." But no. Although in some corners of the music world, speaker buzz is considered music, I don't think that was the intent here. So, the question is: why?

Saturday, January 17, 2004

John Cage anecdote

From the Guardian's The music of chance article, in which various people reminisce about John Cage, Stephen Montague says in part:

We were at the Opéra Bastille in Paris, and the building still wasn't quite finished. There was a party on, and John and I, along with, Merce Cunningham, Mme Duchamp (Marcel Duchamp's wife) and the composer Yvar Mikhashoff, got into a service lift to try to find it. But the lift stopped between floors, and the lights went off - we were plunged into total darkness. It was plain weird. Every second I expected the lift to go into freefall. We pressed the emergency button, and waited. Nothing happened. Finally Mme Duchamp said: 'What are we going to do?'
John replied: 'It's the perfect opportunity to hear a piece of music. Just listen.' There was a sort of rumble, a kind of hum from the building. We all listened intently. After a while, Yvar started some irregular, very occasional tapping, and so did I. Finally - after about 20 minutes, though it seemed like hours - the lights went back on and we were able to get out. Later, John said: 'Wasn't that a marvellous piece of music. My only sadness is that two people were adding dissonances to it.'

Comments back online

Thanks to the good folks at HaloScan, comments are back, and what is more, none have been lost.

I'm sure you're all relieved to be able to comment once more. I look forward to reading what you have to say.

JazzTimes Magazine

It's almost embarassing when someone displays such gross missing of the point as Aaron Steinberg does in his Nils Petter Molvaer concert review, published in Jazz Times. In his account of the beat-driven concert, the near constant dance track thud is as specific as he gets about that element. I can understand lamenting the scarcity of acoustic sounds, as the moments described sound tantalizing:

He saved his unfiltered trumpet sound—breathy and ancient sounding—for only a few occasions, and when he played, it left listeners aching for more
some of the most beautiful moments of the night, the beat dried up as Qvenild draped spare, almost hymnlike chords beneath Molvaer’s trumpet. A little more of that would have gone a long way.

But if all you can hear is a thud where I am sure (based on Molvaer's Solid Ether) there was far more variety, are you really competent to review the concert? It sounds like Steinberg was listening for the wrong things, even if some of his comments seem astute (I've never seen Molvaer live). For example when he says that

Arnesen, in the unenviable position of playing alongside DJ Strangefruit and Jan Bang’s foregrounded rhythm, proved remarkably able. The drummer found all sorts of opportunity for smaller accents anticipating or tailing the beat

He shows that he can only imagine this kind of line-up as a struggle in which acoustic instruments are fighting for survival in the face of all-conquering electronics. If that's your mind-set going in, it seems obvious that not much enjoyment will be derived.

Later on, he complains that A concert hall full of people staring at a man bent at the waist and staring into a computer screen does not make for good entertainment, which is funny because one could easily argue that watching a man stand more or less still in front of a microphone wiggling his fingers on a trumpet is equally poor entertainment. Seems like a case, not of what is actually entertaining, but rather what one is used to finding entertaining, visually. Furthermore, if you're not a trumpeter, and the player isn't doing anything beyond wiggling his fingers, does this visual really give you, as a spectator, more insight into the performance than watching someone fiddle around on a laptop (and assuming you can see the screen)?

One comment I found weird:

There were practically no concessions to the concert hall environment. In other words, the band treated the gig like a club date, complete with filtered, spinning lights and trippy, abstract visuals projected behind the musicians.

Are spinning lights and visuals standard parts of club gigs? That's news to me.

The allure of the big

For New Year's I went to this somewhat posh place in Brussels because an acquaintance was in the band playing there. After the gig, he commented (after playing a couple of jazz sets early in the evening, then switching to pop/soul/funk/rock covers):

Playing jazz is cool, but making people dance is the best feeling

As much as jazz fans pride themselves on the intimacy of clubs, their heightened listening opportunities (in reality often marred by poor acoustics/sound systems/sound-checks), I'm strongly tempted to agree.

In this All About Jazz Q&A with Saxophonist Eric Person he comments on something similar, drawn from his days playing with Ben Harper:

Another thing I dug was playing the big halls before thousands of screaming fans. The crowds enthusiasm is so unlike anything in jazz, it's a very fresh vibe. In Paris at Le Zenith, we played before 7,000 fans. Not 7,000 people there to hear some music, but 7,000 fans there to see us! They have the CD's, they know the lyrics, they are going to the website putting messages up on how much they dug the gig. They are trading tapes. It's something that is very special and real for them, because it's touched them in some way. That's what I want for my music. Multitudes digging my music.

See, the vibe around jazz can be depressing. Little clubs, no dressing rooms, that hand-to-mouth vibe, elitist snobs, lack of money and opportunities. It's a different scene. With Ben Harper I learned how important the visual element is. Whether its the look of the CD cover, or the clothes an artist wears on the gig. It sets up an atmosphere to bring people in. And that's the point.

Another point is that, despite the romantic image of the tortured artist producing artefacts of astounding beauty while living the hard-scrabble life, few people actually enjoy being poor. Especially when you're working hard at thankless tasks such as practicing scales or studying chords for several hours a day.

A laugh a day...


For the sake of all those not in the know, the following may or may not help you get the joke:

Jon Abbey: label owner/record producer
Erstwhile: Abbey's label
Keith Rowe: English table guitarist
Abbey's relationship to Rowe: when Abbey says "I'm his biggest fan in the world," for once it's a verifiable fact rather than adolescent hyperbole
the ongoing volleys of insults that have taken place on Jazz Corner: too long to go into


This may be too much of an in-joke for all but a very few to get, but what else is a blog good for?

I found this diplomatic comment by Dan Warburton in his amazingly long
review of Erstwhile's Amplify 2002 7 CD + 1 DVD box set, which has got the electro-acoustic improvisation world in a tizzy, absolutely hilarious:

Likewise, I'm not convinced that the DVD's final image, one of Mr Abbey himself sitting contentedly in the audience after being acclaimed for his bravery from the stage by Keith Rowe, is the best way to go out

Friday, January 16, 2004

Bad CD! Sticky CD!

Recently, I've had a spate of "sticky CDs" (e.g. Marty Ehrlich's Line on Love and to a lesser extent Radiohead's Hail To The Thief).

A sticky CD is one whose jewel case's central ring clings tenaciously to the CD, making extracting it from its box a difficult enterprise, ever menacing to topple over into disaster: the CD bends almost to the point of breaking. The first time, it took me several minutes to get the Ehrlich out. Of course, I could solve the problem by replacing the inner part of the jewel case, but I only have black ring thingies, and nowadays all CDs have transparents. I'm not sure what it says about me that I'd rather risk breaking the CD before tarnishing its look.

Punch up at a mix-tape wedding

The long tradition of brawling at hip hop award ceremonies seems to be in no danger of dying out, Kelefa Sanneh tells us in Prime Time Still Eludes Brawling Hip-Hop Awards:

an attempt to clear the stage for a performance nearly erupted into a brawl. (Last year's ceremony, at the Hammerstein Ballroom, was cut short by a backstage fight.) Through an impressive combination of exhortation, cajoling and threats, a truce was negotiated, and the show went on — and on and on. The last award was given out just before 1 a.m., nearly five hours after the announced start time.

I guess this fighting spirit makes sense when

Mixtape D.J.'s have been helped immeasurably by hip-hop's high-profile feuds: mixtapes are often the only way to stay current on who hates whom. On Wednesday night, just about everyone seemed to be embroiled in some sort of beef.
other disputes raged on: between hosts, between D.J.'s, between detractors and supporters of Club Speeed, even between rival jewelers. The only consensus was that anything worth doing is worth fighting over.

Rival jewelers? Watch out!

In the end it was hard not to admire this fighting spirit; after all, cutthroat competition has helped keep hip-hop fresh for almost 30 years.

Really? Call me far removed from the day-to-day turmoils of the rap industry, but in my opinion, past a certain age (early 20s, one would hope) not being able to behave in public becomes a bit embarassing. I hear artists and philosophers used to beat each other up in Parisian cafés. That was stupid too. And if you disagree, I'll quote DJ KaySlay:

holler at me outside

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Dave Holland Quintet and Solo live stream

Listen to it here.

This London Barbican concert was recorded on the 8th of July 2003, and is a nice complement to the recent Extended Play, which was recorded 2 years ago.

The concert starts out with the as-yet-unrecorded (I believe) "Last Minute Man," a kind of riff-blues tune, in 7/4 in which the first beat is nicely obscured. Billy Kilson's back-beat is more restrained than usual, and Dave Holland's awesome more-or-less vamping is as great as ever. Robin Eubanks takes the first solo, sounding as impressively sure-footed and methodical as ever. He's followed by Dave Holland.

Bass solos always get a bad rap, but few take them to the level Holland does. This is because of the quality of his own playing, of course, but also in large part because when Holland takes the lead, Kilson and Steve Nelson put in just as much effort in accompanying him as they do the other soloists. Too often, drummers will lapse into a static, uninspiring pattern during bass solos. Kilson doesn't do this at all. Considering that he is such a boisterous and flamboyant player, it is remarkable just how unhinder he is when playing quietly. At the various Dave Holland concerts I've been to, those bass/drums duet moments have always been major highlights.

The group picks up steam on "Herbacious," the theme of which starts eruptively, then settles into a quieter uptempo swing. Chris Potter takes a soprano solo, progressively building in intensity, and Kilson is right there with him. When Kilson's unaccompanied solo turn, he goes the dramatic route of building up from quiet cyclical tom cascades. Note the ominous rumble on the low tom before the full-kit bashing finale. Kilson's playing is as much a treat visually as aurally. It is a great shame that he has left the Quintet.

Things settle down on "Make Believe," which is from Not For Nothing or Prime Directive. Its slow, very singable melody, trombone counter-point and quiet mallet-on-cymbal washes give it a soothing, reflective quality. Underneath Eubanks's, Potter's (on tenor) and Nelson's brief solos, Holland continues to play extremely melodically, maintaining a very nice unity of mood.

Steve Nelson steps into the spotlight on "Global Citizen," mixing the bluesy, the simple and melodic and the more quizzical in a very satisfying way. He is a discreet accompanist and seems equally discreet a person, but when soloing he can be quite muscular. The last time I saw the Quintet he was in show-stopping form, sweat flying off his brow. The long funk coda to this piece is, as anticipated, a very nice moment, as Eubanks keeps it simple, tossing off one-note riffs and funky licks. At one point, Kilson takes advantage of the slower tempo to pound out 32nd notes on his bass drum, which sends Eubanks into a prolonged one-note stutter, a fun instance of mimetism.

The focus then shifts to two tunes from a solo concert Dave Holland had given a few days prior. On "Three Step Dance," Holland underpins point-perfect melodic flights with a chugging shuffle rhythm. Again, it's amazing how joyous a Dave Holland bass solo performance is. The first time I saw him live was with his Octet at Warwick University (UK) in 2000. A long unaccompanied intro with a folksy bent had me riveted throughout.

"Goodbye Porkpie Hat" is a logical solo bass piece and a fitting transition to the final third of the broadcast. The theme is played beautifully, without soulful or bluesy clichés - a point rammed home when Holland does indulge himself in one (a slap). I have Emerald Tears, his solo album from the 70s, but must admit to not having listened to it yet. Doing so has now vaulted to the top tier of my music-listening priorities.

The stream ends with a long saxophone blowing session on "C Jam Blues" from the album Mingus at Carnegie Hall. To quote host Jez Nelson:

John Handy solos first on tenor then Hamiet Bluiett on baritone, followed by George Adams on tenor. Poor George Adams is then left staring at the sky as Roland Kirk leaves Carnegie Hall through a hole his sax has burned in the roof - the crowd go wild and Mingus keeps on keepin' time, reportedly with a huge smile on his face.

While I think he's being a bit unfair to George Adams, who makes his own quite powerful statement, it has to be said that Kirk's solo is rather extraordinary. I particularly enjoyed the jump from a quote of "A Love Supreme" to a growling Basie riff. Who needs a sampler?

A music industry case study

A music industry case study - or how to earn $40,477.25 from $8,490,000 sales gross.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Village Voice: Music: One, Two, Many Concepts by Tom Hull

I like this turn of phrase by Tom Hull in the Village Voice article One, Two, Many Concepts:

Like Vandermark's, Nilssen-Love's jazz chops assume a rough-hewn physicality that derives as much from rock

"rough-hewn physicality" - I'll have to use that some day. There's certainly a rock element to Nilssen-Love's playing (perhaps in terms of its emotional immediacy), but I would say that that is only the edge or varnish given to a solid Elvin Jones/Rashied Ali (perhaps) foundation. In any case, he's an awesome drummer.

Apart from Atomic's Boom Boom and Feet Music, I also have the Dual Pleasures mentioned in the article (but have yet to listen to it beyond the first track) and hope to get an intriguing-looking new trio CD with Bugge Wesseltoft.

The cost of re-issues

Jazz & Blues Music Reviews brings up a good point about the sales price of re-issues. Even though the examples aren't the best, Hill's Passing Ships and Getz's Bossa’s and Ballads: The Lost Sessions are being issued for the first time (as the Getz title indicates and the Hill obliquely points to, which is fitting), Tim's point stands.

I've often wondered how it was possible that, say, a Sam Rivers Complete Blue Note compilation (not exactly a re-issue) or Fuschia Swing Song (a re-issue) could cost the same as a new album. I have little idea of the cost of re-issuing something, but it has to be significantly less than issuing new music. I always feel like music that has paid for itself many times over should be dirt cheap, but maybe that would put current recording artists at even more of a disadvantage?

That said, at the local FNAC there are lots of Blue Notes to be had for 11.90 euros: the usual suspects, but also some surprises (Bobby Hutcherson's Dialogue for the former and Greg Osby's Symbols of Light, which came out in 2001, for the latter).

Studio Athanor january 2004 concerts

10/01 Toine Thys's TAKE THE DUCK
Toine Thys - as
Daniel Noesig - tp
Philippe Aerts - b
Thorsten Grau - d

I heard this quartet's cool landscapes at Mons en Jazz and was most impressed by Noesig's attention to form.

16/10 Daniel Roméo white Card

Roméo's virtuosic and funky bass is always a show-stopper.

30/01 Cyrille Bugnon Quartet
Cyrille Bugnon - sax
Colin Vallon - p
Patrice Moret - b
Philippe Soirat - d

I don't know any of these musicians.

31/01 Marc Lelangue Blues Band
Marc Lelangue - g, voc
Kevin Mulligan - g
Daniel Roméo - el b
Patrick Dorcean - d

I don't follow the Belgian blues scene, but Lelangue seems to have a nice sense of humour, as the press release quips:

Born in Courtrai, West Flanders, in a maternity now transformed into a home for the aged, which will eventually permit him to end where he started

Every thursday @70s + Jam Session
Axel Dumont - el b
Pierre Gillet - fl
Laurent Doumont - ts
Jean-Michel Veneziano - g
John Mahy - kb
Bilou Doneux - d
Michel Seba - perc

When you just wanna dance to 70s jazz/funk/soul.

Missing comments

My comment provider is temporarily (I hope) out of commission. Along with my recent bout of computeritis, I hadn't seen the comments posted recently until today. Here are a couple of comments I want to respond to.

David says:
I love to read music reviews, but I do wish that jazz critics understood music better, had better ears (as do many classical critics).

Are you saying that classical critics have better ears than their jazz counterparts? If Greg Sandow and Kyle Gann are any indication, classical critics tend to be conservatory-educated composers/musicians, whereas I doubt that this is often the case for jazz critics (apart from a few like André Hodeir or Leonard Feather).

Benny Green (for example) was an English critic and amateur-level saxophonist who wrote well (cf. his anthology Such Sweet Thunder and numerous album liner notes) and could be entertaining, but was often amazingly condescending (paradoxically, even when displaying withering modesty), rather in-your-face with his technical knowledge. I remember one passage in which he excoriates jazz fans for not making more effort to understand the nuts and bolts of the music. I felt like smacking him, which I couldn't do, because Green is dead.

For example, a real basic question to me in discussing a jazz musician is whether or not he can play changes. There are jazz musican who can't whom I love despite this (Blythe, Garbarek, and Golia are favorites, for example, who have other strengths that compensate for this basic deficiency), but, in any case, I don't recall reading any critic mention this about any musician.

It seems to me that this was a big issue when free jazz came around (starting with Ornette Coleman), in terms of distinguishing the fakers from the real players. Even before that, a Hughes Panassié would dismiss Miles and Roach as not playing jazz.

Recently, I was listening to Archie Shepp's I Know About the Life and his renditions of "Well, You Needn't," "'Round Midnight" and "Giant Steps" are painful because these tunes demand a certain amount of precision and rigour and Shepp simply skates around these demands. Feeling that I might be missing the point, I discussed this with a friend far more versed in free jazz than I and he agreed with my assessment, for the same reasons. So I was astounded to read a few positive reviews of this album: it's pretty terrible, to the point where I really wondered why Hat Hut went out of its way to re-issue this.

However, I don't know if "playing changes" is the ultimate test. I'm sure a Sonny Stitt could eat up any changes you gave him, but wasn't he less sure-footed when playing modally? As jazz contexts broaden and fragment, I'm not sure "playing changes" can be held up as a central thing. A very important element, sure, but if you're not playing in a changes-oriented context... how much does it matter?

The way I think about music has been influenced by critics, but ultimately I don't trust their taste, certainly not as much as musicians.

That's certainly a good rule of thumb, but I don't know that musicians necessarily have better taste than fans or critics. Even if they can explain the "how" or "why" better, whether or not one likes or understands something goes beyond that, I feel.

No comments on the following paragraph, but I thought it interesting:
Here are some thoughts about the progress of jazz: I think that until 30-40 years ago the progress of improvised melody, harmony and rythm was more-or-less linear, essentially from simple to complex. Other developments such as the rise and fall of big bands, the development of Afro-Cuban jazz, modal song forms, etc. have been tangential to the progress of the technique of jazz improvisation. I see the history of jazz as a miniature of the history of the history of classical music (progress accelerates; I recognized this observation of mine when I read Future Shock a few years ago), and I see jazz since 1970 as similar to the state of classical music since around the turn of the 20th century (i.e. the birth of modernism, which saw composers - I think Debussy was the first - taking the next logical step from the extrem chromaticism of late Romantic music by dispensing with the cadence as the fundamental organizing principal of music, and either replacing it with contrived, less intuitive systems [notably the yin and yang of serialism and repetition, or ending with music that was sort of amorphous) -that is to say, a multiplicity of -isms. Another book that influenced my thinking about this stuff was Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society, which I read for a paper I wrote in high school. I'm not going to get into his philosophy, except to note that I think he was wrong about most aspects of society, but pretty perceptive about the arts and music (not withstanding the fact that he was tone deaf), although, being a secular humanist type, rather than a Christian mystic like him, I'd replace his word, "spirituality," with "intuition," which I think is the stuff of all great art (speaking of Schuller, he I think he grasped the essence of intuition in a comment from the liner notes of a Sonny Rollins record I own - something like "he has the ability to play a complete surprise that seems inevitable in retrospect" - I love that phrase).

Armando commented on Dave Holland's Extended Play:
I love this record. It's exciting, exquisitely performed, and a substantial sampling of one of the best, if not THE best, bands in jazz today.

Even more exciting is that I recall Robin Eubanks saying (perhaps at the Jazz Corner boards) that they sound even better than that these days.

That wouldn't be surprising, considering the album was recorded over two years ago. Although, with the change in drummer, the group may have lost something... He also said that the second Big Band recording would be much better than the first, I hope that turns out to be the case.

Sweeten the Image, Hold the Bling-Bling

From Sweeten the Image, Hold the Bling-Bling, an article on rappers changing their images to become better businessmen:

"They're brand managers now, and they have to think about how their actions are affecting the brand," said Erik Parker, music editor of Vibe magazine.

I guess that in one sense it's cool that, after decades of getting ripped off or having little control over their music and image, more and more Berry Gordy's are popping up, but when you're casually referring to the talent as "brand managers," the music seems decidedly secondary.

Theresa Sanders, a hip-hop publicist, said she was pleasantly surprised when her 16-year-old son recently asked for 'button-ups' and not the oversize $200 throwback jerseys he once favored. 'Jay-Z is in a position of power, so he can affect change,' she said. 'He can make dressing up cool.'

That 16-year-old may be dressing a bit better, but still isn't expressing much individuality. Isn't that a bit more worrying?


Andre 3000, the avant-garde half of OutKast, now favors seersucker pants, saddle shoes and Brooks Brothers blazers. Big Boi, the hardcore half of the duo, is now partial to 1970's inspired tuxedos and has cut his signature, shoulder-length hair.

Such facile characterisations (avant-garde/hardcore), which I've also found written by people who really should know better, make me wonder if people are really listening. More on that when I get 'round to writing my obligatory Outkast post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Out of touch

Computer troubles forced me offline, but now be.jazz will resume normal broadcasting patterns.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Junior Jazz update

I first mentioned Junior Jazz, a.k.a. 14 year old Eline Van Coillie, here and here. I just caught her (completely accidentally) singing "My Favorite Things" on a Flemish TV show (Axelle Red promoting her latest thing and Paul Michiels doing a Dutch the-year-it-was version of Norah Jones's "Don't Know Why" were also featured).

JJ was accompanied by two guitarists and a bassist. I suppose she's promoting her album (which seems to be doing well: my jazz salesman friend asked me if I knew what Junior Jazz was, as he had been getting a number of enquiries about it. For some reason it's in the pop section). In any case, while she didn't seem too passionate about the material, she sounded a lot better than what I remember from the original Man Bijt Hond videos. Her strong Flemish accent was quite cute too. Maybe she'll go on to become really good, once she gets around to singing things that really interest her.

A short rave

Dave Holland - Extended Play (ECM 2003)

Go buy it. Now.

Okay, a tiny bit more detail:

A lot rawer sound- and playing-wise than the studio albums.

Holland's bass sounds exceptionally good (it's not often I delight simply in a bass player's tone and nimbleness).

The Potter-Eubanks duets get a lot of (deserved) press, but the Kilson-Holland duets are just as phenomenal. Kilson is a basher, but shows that low volume is no hindrance when duetting with the bassist-leader. Both times I saw this pairing (in Octet and Big Band configurations; when I saw the Quintet, Nate Smith subbed for Kilson), they left me in awe and their pleasure in playing together was obvious.

Juggler's Parade is still awesome (even if Nelson's marimba sounds a bit dinky, rather than lush and watery-woody as on the original studio version): 4.5 melodies at once! (Kilson's drum pattern is a melody in itself, and I'm counting the saxophone and trombone counterpoint as 1.5 melodies) Prime Directive is stripped down to its bare essentials (two riffs) and blown apart.

I almost always find double albums to be too long. Not so here. It's well over two hours long, but the time flies by.

The discs are well-paced. On disc 1 for example, the first three tunes build to a cumulative, exciting climax, which needs to be, and is, followed by a relaxing ballad.

The only slight let-downs are: a) Steve Nelson is way too much in pensive mode. The last time I saw him he was very expressive and soulful, it's too bad none of that is on display here; b) Who at ECM thought that black was easily legible on a dark green background?

Overall, easily some of the best recorded jazz from 2003 that I heard.

Ludicrous liner note comments

I've never heard Bill Berry, but I don't doubt he's a fine musician. However, he does himself no favours in his contribution to the liner notes to the 1999 reissue of Duke Ellington's Such Sweet Thunder:

I belive that Duke Ellington is the greatest composer of our century. That I am a musician adds strength to my statement as should my lifelong study and affinity for the maestro's music. That I was a member of the band - joining not too long after this album was recorded and issued - again adds substance to my assessment of Duke's prominence.

Way to bring them to your side with the hammer of superior authority, Bill.

Funny quote of the day

By an acquaintance who sells jazz at the Brussels branch of a French cultural mega-chain:

There's a new Norah Jones album coming out soon. I really can't stand it any more, I just want to move it all out of here. Then again, it would let me get my numbers up and fill up on some Anthony Braxton.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

One Final Note rolls on

My review of Atomic's Boom Boom has found its way to One Final Note. Re-reading it, I'm kind of embarrassed because it could definitely have used a final rewrite... Oh well.

Hnita Hoeve January concerts

Julian Priester (tb)
David Haney (p)

Christoph Titz (tp, flh)
Frank Sackenheim (ts)
Thomas Büchel (g)
Willem van Dijk (b)
Jonas Burgwinkel (d)

American veterans and European rising stars open the year at the Hnita Hoeve.

ArtsJournal: PostClassic

Kyle Gann on the hazards of being a professional critic:

After all, I live a weird life. My apartment is lined all round with brim-filled, floor-to-ceiling CD cabinets, and for various periods I’m listening to things almost continuously - a little of this, compare it with that, write down the lyrics from this, figure out a chord progression there, play two minutes of this old disc as a reminder, listen to this brand new disc already writing the review in my head as soon as the first sound blares out. It’s not a “normal” relationship to music.

I'm especially happy he mentioned the "instant review" thing.

He goes on:

I hear what happens in a piece, but perhaps I also too much hear every piece IN RELATION to every other piece in roughly the same genre. Music is never an isolated pleasure for me, but exists as a segment in a continuous web in which I spend nearly every waking moment wrapped, and rapt.

I've noticed that when I'm in periods of intense listening, my commenting tends to veer off into the "X sounds like Y with a little bit of Z" mode, Y and Z being whoever I happen to be listening to a lot. Reducing musical input makes me struggle a bit more beyond the easy comparaisons. I'm quite happy that my last few reviews have contained little of that kind of stuff.

And then, the best line of all:
So I’m an expert. Everything I say about music is true, and insightful.

The more I think about it, the more I want to use this as my tagline when I make it to "expert" status.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Gary Giddins interview

Jerry Jazz Musician interviews Gary Giddins:

But there were many film reviewers I respected, and I didn't think my criticism added anything. In jazz, however, though I was a novice and there were obviously critics I admired, I was arrogant enough to think I had something to say that no one else was saying. Without something akin to that kind of arrogance, you can't move forward. It's arrogant to believe that anyone should read your prose, or look at your paintings, or listen to your music, or watch you act. You need a sense of certainty and in jazz I had that.

I loved jazz more than anything -- well jazz and literature, which was doing all right without me -- and I was delusional about what I could do for it. I was going to introduce jazz to my generation, rid it of stigma and mystery. I felt I could be a liaison between the rock and jazz worlds, even though I knew nothing about contemporary rock. I was out of my fucking mind. In any case, I put everything into jazz.

I can kind of relate to that. While there are several Belgian jazz magazines, I don't feel that many people are covering it intensely on an international level (puffs up chest). I may be wrong, but at least it gives me the illusion of some kind of niche to begin from. Getting an audience to fill that niche, however, is another issue...

On what not to do:
...critics I abominated -- like Pauline Kael -- who in a way were just as influential for showing me what not to do, like spending half the review attacking colleagues and the other half establishing yourself as more important than the subject under review.

On selecting albums to review:
So you're always looking for new subjects. I sample every disc that comes to my office -- every disc, no matter what it is -- and always blindfold-tested. One of the things my assistant Elora does is keep five new CD's in the changer, and if something gets my ear, we put it into a "potential" pile. The stuff I don't like at all we get rid of right away. There is a third pile -- the "second chance" pile, where I need another listen before I know if I want to consider writing about it or not.

On the industry:
I've never been anything but cynical about the record industry, which with few exceptions is an appalling enterprise. I root for the downloaders -- they have a greater love of music than its corporate gatekeepers.

In the '70s, I got to know Helen Humes, who sang at the Cookery. One night she saw me walk in and waved me over to her table. I sat down, she opened her purse, bubbling with enthusiasm, and told me she had something incredible to show me -- it was a check for about $24 in royalties, sent by Don Schlitten, who had put out "Midnight in Minton's" with Don Byas, on which Helen had a couple of vocals. She told me she had been recording since she was thirteen years old, sang with Count Basie, had big rhythm and blues hits in the forties, and yet this was the first royalty check she had ever received. She said she wasn't going to cash it, she was going to put it up on her wall. That says a lot about the record business.

Echoing what Ben Ratliff said in the post below this one:
The jazz audience is generational. People like the music that aroused their interest when they were young. They don't necessarily follow it into the next period. At the JVC Festival recently, there was a Bix Beiderbecke concert, and some guy told me that this was the best jazz band he had heard in forty years. I couldn't even respond to that. Clearly he only wanted to hear this kind of music. There are a lot of people like that. I have met people over the years for whom jazz ended with Bird or Stan Getz or Ellington. Critics are often generalists who try to follow the entire development of the music. Most listeners do not. In downtown New York, the avant-garde fans pay lip service to the earlier players -- they know and love some of them -- but that is not where their focus is. People who listen to traditional jazz basically ignore what the avant-garde does. That's the way it's always been and always will be.
For many people jazz begins with Miles. I recently received the souvenir book for the Playboy Jazz Festival, and would you believe there was not one Louis Armstrong performance among their list of the twenty-five essential jazz recordings? That's insane.

On defining jazz:
Louis Armstrong said that jazz is what you are. The saxophonist Brew Moore once said that if you don't play like Lester Young, you are playing wrong. That is why most of the people reading this conversation never heard of Moore

On Cecil Taylor's whereabouts:
I said this to you in our conversation about Cecil Taylor, that if Taylor had been white and had come out of a different background, he might have been playing to a different audience.

Yes, and he would have been recording for Deutsche Gramophone.


On addressing other critics in print:
I don't. I never do. Unless I am taking on another critic, which I try not to do unless I read something that really really pisses me off. When I go into the alternative universe of writing, the person I mostly write for is me. I am writing in part to the kind of fan I was when I was sixteen or seventeen, reading jazz criticism. I'm writing the kind of work that I like to read, writing to explain to myself what I'm hearing and thinking.

On the abstract nature of music criticism:
I was a substitute movie critic for Jim Hoberman in 1990, and during that time I discovered that even though I was writing the same amount of words every week, I was doing it in half the time. One reason is that so much of film writing is concrete -- that is, it deals with plot and material that you have to put in about the acting, photography, and so forth. There is far less of that when you write about music. So much of it is abstract. You are looking for concrete terms to describe the ineffable

I think he's right. I would go further and say that it is much easier to write about an album with lyrics written by the singer or band than an instrumental album. Even sung standards have, in a sense, become abstract, so both instrumental and vocal standards albums deal in interpretation, pure sound, rather than narrative. I first realised this not too long ago when I started reading the online music magazines and marvelled at the length of reviews (I marvel at their sheer bulk, but rarely feel such length justified), before I looked a little closer and saw how much of them was, at best, about the album's narrative elements and at worse about quite tangential issues, the link to which existed only in the writer's mind. (I can attack unnamed fellow critics without sounding petty when discussing criticism rather than music, right? right?!?!)

On DIY reviewing:
Criticism isn't an amateur pursuit, it's a serious craft, sometimes raised to an art. Don't get me wrong, I'm very interested in opinions -- I get letters all the time from readers who know a lot more than I do -- but criticism goes beyond opinion. It's a literary, not a musical pursuit, and something you have to work at.

You know, a Stanley Crouch may say something you think is preposterous, but he has earned the right to say it, if for no other reason than because he has lived his whole life inside this music. He has spent more time in clubs than almost anybody else I know. If this is a conclusion that he comes to, he has the right to say it, and you have to give him respect even as you disagree. I don't feel that way about some guy who owns eleven records and once went to a show at the Village Vanguard. I am just not that interested.

One difference between professional and amateur critics is that amateurs almost always prefer to write about themselves -- "the first time I heard this record" kind of thing. Jesus, sometimes I'm tempted to do it myself, and I go a little overboard in that direction in the intro to my next book. Maybe it's a consequence of getting older. But you do try to keep a lid on it; when a writer begins to see the artists he writes about as supporting characters in his own life, he's in trouble. Perception outweighs memory.

This sounds a bit pompous. Once outside the factual domain, what is a reviewer discussing if not himself and his reaction to an album? The words are simply fancier than "the first time I heard this record" and even that approach can be interesting if well-written and turned towards the reader rather than being the writer's misplaced personal diary.

From the third blind-test response (emphasis mine):
Martin Williams used to argue that we were all amateurs, basically, including himself, because we weren't musicologists. I told him I didn't buy that. Take Gunther Schuller. Nobody in the world knows more music than Gunther Schuller. He is a gifted composer and conductor and can transcribe anything, yet there are matters of taste in his books that few serious critics would accept. So, being able to transcribe and even a tremendous knowledge of music doesn't make you a more sympathetic listener. I would trust Dan Morgenstern -- who can't transcribe a solo -- on the subject of Armstrong's music more than Gunther's, even though I can learn so much more from Schuller about the way music is made. Collier is a musician, a trombonist, and he wrote an absolutely appalling book about Louis Armstrong that displayed no real understanding or feeling. How could a musician listen to the "Far East Suite" and dismiss it as a bunch of slides from a family trip?

From the sixth blind-test response:
Originally, I loved the way Ellison wrote about musicians he revered -- like Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing -- but he didn't love Parker, and this is the kind of writing you get when you don't like something the rest of the world has decided is important. You end up looking for justification for not liking it, instead of trusting your impulses... What he's done here is objectify Parker as a symbol, and so ignores the music... I don't think he saw himself as a symbol or as emblematic of Dionysian urges... I think Ellison is trying to convince himself and his fellow intellectuals that they don't have to deal with Parker as a musician, per se, because he stands for something else -- a kind of rebellion.

To me, this essentially confirms my response to the "on DIY reviews" paragraph.