Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lazy ears

Some of the points made by composer Graham Collier in this post, for example this passage "there is a pack mentality among many critics which, unfortunately for some of us, means they rarely look beyond the pile of CDs they receive to see what else is around", squares with what I wrote a while ago about how certain ever-presents on year end lists made me think too many jazz writers have "lazy ears" (That said, we all have our biases, of course. I wont deny I have mine).

I still have issues with a few of his points:

1. Seeking out new jazz (or new music in general) is time consuming work, but should be part of any reviwers job. Not merely sit and wait for CDs to fall into ones lap. However, being as it is that jazz writing in particular is being cut from the arts pages of newspapers and magazines, as well as the fact that it doesn't pay very well and that jazz PR is virtually nonexcistent these days, it can also be expensive work. We're more in need of word-of-mouth and communication - critic to critic, fan to fan, critic to fan and vice versa, musician-to-critic and vice versa - than most other arts writing departments. This need not necessarily take the form of free, physical copies being mailed to us, but dropping a line about upcoming releases does help. (For my own part, I pay for 99% of the jazz I write about. It's fair to say my jazz writing is a labour of love. I make my money from doing other things).

2. The comment borrowed from Chris Kelsey about some of the "formally conventional" big band records, is A): something I feel is not entirely correct in all instances (more formally conventional, perhaps, than Collier's) and B): makes me want to point out that paying attention to formality is something that, while certainly especially important to jazz composition, must not take the place of other important aspects of music, such as attitudes, values, stories and meanings, and the musicianship necessary (or adequate) to convey these. This is, for example, where critics of classic cinema often fail. Formality is part of the package, and can inform other aspects, but it is not the be all and end all.

By the way, at #49, is Vijay Iyer Trio's Historicity the highest placed jazz record on the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop in recent years? (Album list here. Other jazz records I've spotted so far: Darcy James Argue, Henry Threadgill's Zooid, Wadada Leo Smith, Ben Allison, Darius Jones Trio (whoop-whoop!), Steve Lehman Octet and John Hollenbeck. There are probably more).

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