Jazz can't get arrested on Main Street.
August 21, 2004 4:59 PM   Subscribe

All Hail the New Jazz! Getting slightly bored with pop and looking to expand your horizons? Can't believe the musty Burns/Marsalis version is all there is to jazz? Try the "avant jazz" tradition whose central figures are the amazing bassist William Parker (so big and strong I've seen him pick up a bass and play it like a fiddle), David S. Ware (to my mind the greatest tenorman since Trane—see him live and you'll never forget it), and pianist Matthew Shipp (a frequent collaborator of both). Want a convenient guide to their recordings, with brief descriptions and (tacky but useful) letter grades? Here ya go—Tom Hull has great taste, and if he gives a record an A you can be sure it's worth hearing (and he gives you fair warning about somebody like Peter Brötzmann, who "sounds more like late Coltrane run through a blender by Einstürzende Neubauten: great heaps of noise unleavened by conventional musical signposts").
posted by languagehat (16 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
As an extra, here's an autobiography by the rarely heard pianist and instrument-maker Cooper-Moore describing his early life; the writing is unpolished and it ends abruptly, but it's one of the most convincing accounts I've seen of what it's like for a musician to discover the music they don't teach in school:
I never heard about or was taught anything about the FEELING in the music until I got to college, The Catholic University Of America in Washington. Musically, it was a mistake to have gone there. They had not an idea of what I wanted to do. I switched my instrument from piano to flute. My piano teacher was an old racist white man from South Carolina who would shout, "Boy, you are a pie-ana player. You don't belong here." I knew after my first year at C.U. that some other place was for me. But being in a big city was what was important. After classes I was across town hanging out in bars with the musicians who didn't have a job that night, until the working cats came in and started playing. Then hopping from club to club seeing who was playing that night. This was during the time I first heard Trane and Sun Ra. This was during the time of ESP Records. There it was. There was the music.
posted by languagehat at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2004 [1 favorite]

but before you get there, be sure youve gotten thru albert ayler, ornette coleman, and late 'trane
posted by Satapher at 5:20 PM on August 21, 2004

All Hail JazzHat!
posted by wendell at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2004

but before you get there, be sure youve gotten thru albert ayler, ornette coleman, and late 'trane

I disagree. I still don't like most of Ayler or late Trane (love Ornette, though), and I don't think it's necessary to "get through" that stuff just because it came first, any more than you need to listen to European free jazz first (Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, et al). Just take what you need and leave the rest.
posted by languagehat at 5:28 PM on August 21, 2004

This is a trivial quibble, lh, but the lyrics you linked to are incorrect. I don't think it's "til so much cavalry came", but rather, "til Stoneman's cavalry came". That's why I prefer rock/pop over jazz, I like lyrics.
posted by jonson at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2004

I never thought my respect for languagehat could further increase...
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:04 PM on August 21, 2004

Fantastic post, Languagehat!

Although I love most of late Trane (the most perfect suite of music ever is A Love Supreme, although listening to Interstellar Space sometimes forces me to spasmodically hit whoever is standing next to me about the face and head), I don't think it is necessary listening to get into this newer avant-jazz either. On the other hand, it can't hurt! (unless you listen to Interstellar Space with me in the same room, of course...)
posted by sic at 6:09 PM on August 21, 2004

I really like the work piano trio The Bad Plus is doing right now.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 7:32 PM on August 21, 2004

havent heard much of the new, just advocating the old, dont think either requires the other
posted by Satapher at 7:38 PM on August 21, 2004

This is wonderful languagehat, thank you! Just yesterday I was listening to Monk, Bud Powell and Charlie Christian. They never get old to me, but I found myself lamenting that I knew next to nothing about more contemporary musicians - I've listened to Marsalis every now and again, but was never really taken.

But after listening to a few of these tracks via iTunes (most of them are available) I'm itching to get to the record store. Indeed, it's almost enough to get me to suspend my moratorium on DRM music . . . almost.
posted by aladfar at 8:10 PM on August 21, 2004

Good source for pointers to more in-depth articles is Avant Music News.
posted by kenko at 11:14 PM on August 21, 2004

kenko: What a great resource -- why didn't I know about that? Thanks!

jonson: You're absolutely right, and I should have checked out that particular set of lyrics more closely before I linked to it. I was just in a hurry to get a link for the sentence. But I did like the fact that the site loaded quickly and didn't try to install software or throw up popup ads, like so many lyrics sites. (In fact, now that I go back to check, I see that's because it's on the website of the History Department of the University of San Diego -- which makes the "Stoneman's cavalry" goof completely inexcusable!)

sic: I like A Love Supreme fine; by "late Coltrane" I mean "that screechy stuff that hurts my ears": basically Ascension and Interstellar Space, I guess. I'm perfectly willing to believe it's as brilliant as they say, but I don't enjoy it. At this point, anyway.

aladfar: Great! That's what I was hoping to achieve. I still love the old stuff with a passion, but I need regular doses of avant!
posted by languagehat at 7:05 AM on August 22, 2004

i never understood why you'll see a list like tom hull's above and never see medeski, martin & wood on it. it's got all of mmw's collaborators...and it shows hull's view that jazz shouldn't exclude the turntable. so you've got a progressive view of this...but not the people who started it?

i understand that to the typical jazz snob, mmw's electric work is considered sacrilege, but even then there is still their acoustic work which only a fool would believe there's not new and interesting direction taken with the sound.

i don't want to knock some of the names on the list because they are some of my favorite...but it's still something that bothers me to see someone like matthew shipp get accolades within the jazz community but someone with equal if not more chops like john medeski is completely ignored. and it's mostly because mmw's music speaks to wider audiences than just the jazz community.
posted by oliver_crunk at 8:12 AM on August 22, 2004

I really want to see pics of bass-played-like-a-fiddle.
posted by effugas at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2004

Speaking of Derek Bailey (as I was in an earlier comment): Music as Sex (review of Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation, by Ben Watson).
posted by languagehat at 12:57 PM on August 25, 2004

Is this thing still on? Bailey and Parker have more forbidding reputations than is really warranted. The improvisations on Solo Guitar vol 1 (there are composed pieces too) or Aida don't exactly have memorable melodies, but they can be quite pleasant if you're in the right frame of mind. And Parker's playing can be beautiful—the album Sankt Gerold with him, Paul Bley (who I think is the nominal leader) and Barre Phillips is great (albeit very ECM).

I'm not that familiar with Parker's career but I understand he hasn't been as uncompromising as Bailey (though Bailey's rigidity frequently leads to predictability: non-idiomatic improvisation is itself a rather narrow idiom). He even played on a Scott Walker album (but then Bailey just played on a David Sylvian album).
posted by kenko at 6:22 PM on August 29, 2004

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