Saturday, March 04, 2006

and now our feelings on wind, sand and stars

Nat Hentoff makes an excellent observation in the liner notes of Don Cherry's "Complete Communion:"

"To be sure, all previous jazz has been dialogue in whole or in part. But in the new jazz, as here, the conditions for conversation have been greatly extended. The previous ground rules - of harmony, of 'permissible' textures, of melodic development, of beat - have been stretched to the expressive capacities of each player."

In this way, he recasts the history of jazz not as a succession of styles, but as a steady expansion of individual and collective possibilities, which is a much more interesting way of viewing things.

After "Complete Communion," I listened to Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet duetting (a week ago, it was Mulligan and Baker, earlier today it was Steve Coleman, Jason Moran and Marcus Gilmore holding an extraordinary conference) and the main difference, clearly, was all the extra tools and devices Cherry and Barbieri had at their disposal. Hentoff's view also goes against the "death of jazz" theory, as the process of finding new ways of dialoguing and new contexts for provoking certain dialogues (also called jazz composing) hasn't stopped.

While I'm on the subject of old things, one ability which has perhaps been lost, is the incredible condensation Armstrong, James P. Johnson or, say, Willie "The Lion" Smith were capable of: they could pack huge statements into a few minutes or even a half-chorus. When listening to them, often I'll glance at the CD player's clock and think "has it only been two minutes?" That's barely enough time for your average soloist to warm up, nowadays.