Tuesday, May 02, 2006

sharing the solo spotlight

It is notable that the Ben Ratliff article Jack Reilly refers to, "The Solo Retreats From the Spotlight in Jazz," actually exists (the bottomless Jazz Corner archives hold a copy and the ensuing debate). FWIW, I agree with Ratliff, up to a point.

I certainly don't hear Ratliff saying that there's no more good soloing, or that the solo is passé. I think the string-of-solos as only form of arrangement is boring when used for every song, but is not invalid when mixed in with other approaches or used by truly great soloists. It provides one kind of platform for self-expression, one among several.

The way collective improvisation is being funnelled into more structured forms is the article's real insight (the "meticulous arrangement" bit isn't as interesting), even though it's not necessarily as new a phenomenon as the writer claims (mid-90s). Ratliff hints at the idea's lineage when he says that "there are more analyses of solos than those of rhythm sections, for example, and they're much better-known pieces of criticism." Indeed, rhythm section vocabulary has grown alongside the soloist's, setting the stage for the phenomenon Ratliff latches upon here.

At its best, the effect can be of a *band* perpetually discovering itself, with new corners illuminated through writing, improvising and interplay simultaneously. It can be like the usual paradigm turned inside-out: form/structure/composition floating inside improvisation rather than improvisation infiltrating a form.

I'm very dubious of the claim that the "arranging impulse had largely dropped out of small-group jazz from the 1960's to the 1980's," though. And I don't see any logical reason why a more collectively improvised (or even meticulously arranged) style would lead to more of a new literature than decades of great solos (and rhythm section teamwork) have.