Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Zero + All that Jazz

Re: the zero grade, Brad Luen commented:

"(...) what good is a rating system if you don't use the whole scale? A basement grade doesn't mean there's absolutely no merit; instead, it's a statement that whatever merit exists is dwarfed by offensiveness of some kind. Only thing is: you'd better be able to bring the moral outrage, or else you'll look like you're throwing a hissy fit".

And he mentions Pitchfork's reviews of NYC Ghosts & Flowers and Liz Phair to exemplify his last point. He's right, of course, and I didn't mean to discard the zero grade altogether. But my opinion is that whenever the zero grade has been used, the writing (or lack of) has not been good enough to back it up - they haven't brought the moral outrage - and frankly "utterly generic rocked-out pop songs" doesn't cut it (nor does a Youtube-vid). It is often easier to back up a 10 grade - if you are that excited about a record, you've probably thought about why. I feel that the zero grade is too often used when people just don't like the thing (or is bitterly disappointed by a favorite's latest offering), but really haven't contemplated why they don't like it. (Xgau's review of SY's Rather Ripped has a section on taste vs. judgement which can be related to the problems of the use of the zero grade).

The difference between me and Mr. Luen is perhaps just that I reserve the zero grade for the absolute abominable - the V&V's - but I'm willing to accept his stance. I'm not a professional critic, so I don't get shitloads of records I have to listen to. I have to seek out music (and that I do a lot of), mostly, and receive only a small amount by comparison, so the chances of me stumbling upon zeroes are slimmer than for people who do this for a living.

On to things jazz. I played Ornette Coleman's "Sleep Talk" from Sound Grammar at work the other day, and got a few worried looks from my colleges in return. I discussed this with another college, and said that I thought some people make themselves think that listening to jazz is more difficult than it really is. After all, "Sleep Talk" is plain melody. His response was that he thought they perhaps missed some of the familiar structures that are more common in pop*. Reasonable point, though many do seek out experimental stuff - including structure wise - in pop, but still regard jazz with skepticism. Destination: Out have posted a beginner's guide to free jazz, where they attempt to link certain fields and artists of modern jazz with currents in modern rock, providing free mp3's for exemplification. I don't like all of their choices, but applaud their cause.

* I use pop here in the sense "popular music" (be it pop, rock, indie, what have you), as opposed to classical and jazz, though in no way inferior to these.

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