Friday, February 8, 2013

I'm modern, but I'm also a moldy fig

All jazz is modern, Wynton Marsalis says. That's true in the sense that everyone paying jazz now is working in this moment, which must be modern.

In contrast, it's also true that jazz that was once modern is now old — unless it's resuscitated by musicians playing it now, in the moment, which must be modern.

But how should we respond to stuff that would have been tired even when it was modern, but is now being played now? For example, this recent performance by the Nasheet Waits group with Vijay Iyer.

Sad to say, there's nothing happening here (even though Waits is a great drummer). Well, at least there's a pulse for a while after 2:30, and some intermittent runs and clusters from Iyer around 4:00-5:00. I listened to part 1 of this piece, which I found a little more engaging, but still dull. Four decades ago, the free jazz I heard had lots of muscle and sonic extremes. As a high school kid with a new driver's license, I drove with my friends to downtown Chicago and heard Ornette Coleman with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. I also had albums by Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Lots of screeching and blatting and general commotion, plus periods of abstraction kind of like these videos — but never boring. Fun while it lasted, but I moved out of that phase, like many others.

The Art Ensemble from the 1970s sounds more modern than this stuff that was performed a few weeks ago.

All of this adds up to the grim fact that after nearly half a century of listening to jazz and being open to new sounds, I have become a moldy fig. I never thought it was possible. But, having encountered such dreary music that owns a place in the vanguard, I must accept my lot.

However, many musicians are making challenging music WITH A LIVELY PULSE.

Such as Tom Harrell, who has produced nearly one great album every year for the past half-decade. His current work, "Number Five," has him paying in duos and solo formats, really taking risks. There's hope for modernity after all.


Tim Connor said...

They're playing from charts--that's really weird. Somebody wrote this stuff out and thought it made sense? The thing that made free jazz work was that the musicians were listening to each other and responding. When you're a moldy fig because you hark back to Archie Shepp in 1972... something's gone wrong.

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a market for this stuff, its art school music for sure---jazz though, I would classify that as something far more deep and soulful than what is going on here. I wasn't a huge fan of MM&W, until they recorded A Go-Go with Sco. so maybe this guy will surprise us. Jazz is such a small and sacred lot in the music world, I hate to complain about someones success (its bad karma too!) I'll keep checking this guy out and maybe it will grow on me. In the meantime---bring back the swing!

Brandon Mezzelo