Saturday, March 11, 2006

michael j. west takes on the world

After reading Free Jazz: Separate But Unequal, I sought out Michael J. West's other articles.

Miles Davis: Not Overrated, But Overhyped starts out with a fair-enough position, but gets more ludicrous with every passing paragraph.

In Ornette Coleman: The Last Jazz Radical, Ellington is relegated from the Top Three (Armstong and Parker being the other Two) to make room for Ornette. The inanity of this approach is explained by the author's outlook on music history: "You see, the most important musicians are always the radicals who reshape the music entirely: they come out of nowhere and do something so completely different, so compelling, that everyone else in music changes their approach to adapt what the new guy is doing."

Ornette may be the only jazz great to whom this vision could be applied, which may explain his position in MJW's hierarchy (I'm not disputing his Ornette-worshipping, but his thinking more generally). Cecil Taylor had a similar path (rejection, slowly gathering and training like-minded musicians), but for some reason didn't have the same influence over more mainstream jazz that Ornette had (why is that?). At least, that's my impression.

"without Ornette Coleman there would be no Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Andrew Hill, Anthony Braxton, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Captain Beefheart, or Miles Davis 60s Quintet. There would be no Sun Ra or Cecil Taylor. (Well, okay, there would, but they would have just been thought of as charlatans or lunatics. Far more so than they are anyway.)"

I'll give him John Zorn (is Masada anything other than a Jewish OC Quartet?). Does anyone think of Dave Douglas, of all people, as a lunatic? He seems to be the most anti-lunatical person imaginable. Anyway, I honestly hear little connection between Taylor and Ornette: Taylor comes out of a highly composed and virtuosic world , in 1955 he was already recording highly idiosyncratic stuff and by 1961 (of what I've heard, which is far from being even remotely comprehensive) was coming up with highly innovative group compositions and interplay, that had little to do with Coleman.

Miles's 60s quintet and Andrew Hill seem to me similarly not directly related to Ornette.

Further (French) fuel to the free jazz fire.