Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ravi Coltrane: Jazz for writing

Lately, I have been dividing jazz between tunes I can listen to while I'm writing, and those I can't.

Old-school jazz mostly falls into the "can't" category. There's too much distracting spontaneity and driving momentum going on. Dexter Gordon playing "It's You or No One." John Coltrane playing "Impressions." George Adams playing "Sue's Changes." Freddie Hubbard playing "Red Clay." Will I get my writing done with those players demanding my attention? Not likely.

Ravi Coltrane:
But I listen to many jazz CD's that help me focus on my writing. Examples:

"Stargazer," Dave Douglas
"Barefooted Town," David Binney
"Suno Suno," Rez Abassi
"Blood Sutra," Vijay Iyer

In addition to those, there's one more album, out this year, that made me pay close attention to the difference between jazz I can and can't write to —  "Spirit Fiction" by
Ravi Coltrane. So much has been written about the maturing aesthetic of the son of the most influential saxophonist in the history of jazz. He's coming into his own. He's finally confronting the music of his father. Et cetera.

All this comparing and contrasting of father and son puts today's jazz in perspective. Old-school jazz (1940's-90's) is propulsive; it's going somewhere. Newer jazz is all about creating intricate objects and admiring them — and there's a lot to admire.

On the tune "Spirit Fiction," the spare, pointillistic flurries of pianist Luis Pedromo and the flutters from bassist Drew Gress create a backdrop for Ravi's snaky lines. The structure they create is an end in itself. The delicate melody of "Who Wants Ice Cream" occupies my head when I'm writing and when I'm sleeping.

Newer jazz is more moody, often spacey or filled with odd and mixed meters. The examples above are all from the past half-decade, except for "Stargazer," which is about 15 years old (The work of Dave Douglas is where I became aware of the trend I'm describing).

This music enhances the writing environment and does not distract from thinking about words — cerebral music for cerebral pursuits. Ravi's work does this for me.

I'm not taking sides here. I want both kinds of jazz, as well as others not mentioned. Most of the players I know stake out strong opinions as to style; they've invested their musical lives in following a certain path. As a listener, I don't have to choose.

Now that I'm done writing, I'll take off Ravi and put on some Dexter.

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