25 February 2007

(i'm on a) kick against modern jazz

...getting back to my irregularly scheduled deprogramming. in the post-valentino genre-fest, we're up to:

5 with love Y charles tolliver big band

not too much to say about this, really - it's big and brassy and exciting, pleasingly complex and contrapuntal but hardly groundbreaking. it sounds but exactly like (i)'d expect from modern big band jazz, which is this funny thing because i'm not sure the definition or sound "modern" jazz has changed all that much since the 1960s. i guess the touchstones are thad jones/mel lewis, and before that maybe mingus, though it's really that out there.

so, unlike the moran album, this one doesn't offer very much conceptual content to talk about. i guess the thing would be solos and musicianship, but that kind of thing - instrumentalism in general - doesn't tend to interest me very much at all, on an intellectual level anyway. well, if there's something especially noteworthy going on in the solos here, it's not jumping out at me.

not that there's anything wrong with any of this - well-executed renditions of familiar forms are perfectly fine in my book, in fact it's nice and maybe even necessary to have some (but not too many) of them around; more than anything for the possibility of seeing them live. (and i'm sure tolliver's band would absolutely smoke live.)

but at what point does the making a "normal-sounding" jazz album (something that, again, has not changed very much at all since the early-mid '60s - pop-jazz and fusion aside - hence the phrase "post-bop," which as far as i can tell denotes the era we're still living in) become tantamount to performing a "genre exercise." and(/or) at what point does that phrase take on its negative connotations? on the surface, a straight-ahead modern big-band album like this wouldn't seem to entail the knotty theoretical concerns of someone like sharon jones. (for instance, would we ever get nick s. referring to a jazz artist as semi-fascist? possibly, but only if they were aping, like bix beiderbecke or something.)

possibly because jazz - so far out of the main stream of contemporary socio-cultural concerns - seems likewise to be in a sense outside of history. or rather, it's because lack of formal innovation has become the overwhelming norm in the jazz of the past few decades; that is, not sounding new is hardly news.

i should be careful here, because this argument is veering dangerously close to "gee, all jazz sounds the same to me" territory. except...well, it sort of does. and that's not because i haven't listened to plenty of it. it may be because i don't have a lot of patience for gleaning individual players' soloing styles and what-have-you, unless they're really striking (like bill frisell, for instance - but in that case it's more of a sonic/textural issue.)

[actually, there is something else going on - a bigger question, which i can't start to tackle right now, about how much i conceive of music metonymically, as it were - listening to/considering albums as exemplars of their particular genre/style, rather than in and of themselves. it's sort of an art/craft distinction, and sort of an issue about the individuality/specificity of artists/performers. mmmm...remind me to talk about it later.]

so what we're left with, perhaps, is two possible directions for "modern jazz," exemplified by the jason moran record (high-concept, self-aware, gimmicky) and the charles tolliver record (musically "pure," straightforward, unoriginal.) i happen to like both of these albums, or in any case i actively enjoy listening to them, which amounts to the same thing. but i'm not necessarily crazy about either of these as primary moduses operandi for contemporary jazz, and i have the sense that i might not actually like them as much if i was more familiar with lots of other records that i presume are out there doing similar things. can't say for sure though. and in any case, there are other things going on in jazz. maybe i'll get to that in another week or two.

No comments: