The shape of jazz gone by
November 14, 2009 2:42 PM   Subscribe

NPR's jazz blog A Blog Supreme recently concluded a series in which they asked jazz bloggers to "name five albums you would recommend to somebody looking to get into modern jazz". The results are now up in the category Jazz Now; the intro has the index, including reactions elsewhere. Destination: Out had some pricklier suggestions—see also their best of the 90s list (and their own nominations). posted by kenko (40 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
oh my. Thank you.
posted by honest knave at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2009

This is not the time or place to say this, but Taco Bell has so skewed my understanding of the word supreme that any time I hear A Love Supreme or even see a link to A Blog Supreme, as earlier in this post, I involuntarily taste sour cream and tomatoes.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 3:14 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

The best thing about the NPR recommenatioins, IMO, is that each of the the solicited recommendations comes with a song to listen to. Thus you can decide immediately if you like the music they recommend. Also, each set of recommendations has a theme, so if you dislike one set, don't write off the rest.
posted by Someday Bum at 3:34 PM on November 14, 2009

Sometimes I wonder if, for all the artistic possibilities jazz gained by abandoning its roots as dance music, it also cut itself off from the roots of its vitality.

I mean, God bless David S. Ware, but I don't see any argument for spending time listening to him rather than [insert your preferred 50s/60s jazz legend here] that doesn't involve special pleading.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:38 PM on November 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Jazz will never again appeal to a wide audience until they do away with the bass solo. There is no bigger downer in all of music than when you're chugging along with some excellent jazz and suddenly, everything drops away, and all you're left with is "thub-thub-thub" happening down in some basement register, and every last drop of energy flees the song and sneaks out the back door of the room, and the worst part is that everyone's trying to be polite and pretend that a bass solo is as good as a sax solo or a piano solo, and that they're absolutely riveted to this "thub-thub-thub" when actually they're wishing that the bass player would do something interesting like drop dead backwards into the busboy's dirty-dish tub, but the bass solo just goes on and on in an echo chamber of utter, dull pointlessness, and when he finally finishes and the audience's numb brains register that the music has started again, they clap -- they clap! -- and actually encourage the guy, and then maybe one of the other actual musical instruments will take another solo, but usually you get what is the next worse thing in the world to a bass solo: a drum solo, but after a bass solo, a drum solo -- which should, by all rights, be the most empty, meaningless, and wasted moments of your life -- actually sounds kind of interesting, and you're thinking, "well, at least it's not a bass solo," as the real music starts up again, and the bass solo recedes back into memory, like some horrible dream where you actually gazed into the bleak abyss of a world without hope or redemption, and you look forward to the next song with some anticipation, and sure enough, you're chugging along with the sax, and the piano, and you hear some amazing playing, and then it happens again, and all joy flees the world as you are forced -- yet again -- to sit through another bass solo, while irrecoverable seconds drop off your life span and go spinning into cosmic trash can, and some earnest idiot stands hunched over his doghouse, his face twisted with concentration, fingering his big, fat, clumsy instrument -- and no matter how good he is, no matter how useful and valuable and irreplaceable his function as a backup (repeat "backup") to the REAL musicians who play actual musical instruments, no matter if he is the most talented bass player on earth, his solo will sound like "thub-thub-thub" and anyone with two brain cells who might have liked jazz before or after is making a resolution never again to voluntarily subject themselves to the idiotic exercise of pretending to like a bass solo, and so they take an interest in some other kind of music, or seek out jazz from the days before bass solos, or (best of all) before the string bass, when jazz bands had tubas, as they were meant to, and trumpet players made horse laugh sounds... (all of this goes double, no triple, for electric bass.)
posted by Faze at 3:42 PM on November 14, 2009 [17 favorites]

I'm seeing Bill Frisell's name popping up, which make me happy. Kenny Wheeler too.
posted by davebush at 3:47 PM on November 14, 2009

Sorry Faze, but without upright bass accompaniment you WOULD NOT HAVE SNAP DIVA DUELS.
posted by kid ichorous at 3:50 PM on November 14, 2009

There are a lot of good suggestions on this list that point to groups or individuals like John Zorn that are actually developing the vernacular of jazz and keeping it relevant, but I have to say that I don't think Brad Mehldau is one of them. It seems to me that his critical mistake is assuming that the musical content of the popular songs that he appropriates can be separated from the delivery of the content. Realistically, the notes and chords of these songs fall flat when they're regarded in the abstract, no matter how much they're decorated; it might be different if he weren't committed to keeping the connection to his source intact, but at that point there's no sense in basing your improvisations on specific songs. He's talented as hell (especially as a contrapuntal improviser, damn) but I always end up just wanting to listen to the original tune when I hear Mehldau's interpretation.
posted by invitapriore at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2009

God bless David S. Ware, but I don't see any argument for spending time listening to him

I'm a jazz newbie myself, but listening to a clip of David S. Ware now, I'm thinking his music would be classified as free jazz. There's far more going on in jazz than just free jazz. If you're looking for jazz that's more connected to its roots, you want "straightahead" jazz. Try Josh Jackson's recommendations on the NPR blog, for one (if I remember the flavor correctly). He has a great jazz radio show, too, The Checkout (excellent podcast), which tends to focus on more mainstream, straightahead jazz.
posted by Someday Bum at 3:54 PM on November 14, 2009

I mean, God bless David S. Ware, but I don't see any argument for spending time listening to him rather than [insert your preferred 50s/60s jazz legend here] that doesn't involve special pleading.

I'm not familiar with David S. Ware so I'll pretend you said Steve Lehman, whose music isn't terribly dance-oriented.

I don't have much of an argument for listening to Travail, Transformation and Flow rather than Out to Lunch, because I think both are fantastic, but I do have an argument for listening to it rather than Relaxin' with the Miles Davis Quintet, namely, that the Davis album doesn't do much for me, whereas the Lehman album seems—get this—vital, interesting, and exciting. If you prefer the Davis, that's fine; I'm not going to try to produce an argument for you. The point of the Blog Supreme exercises isn't to convince you to listen to Lehman (or Ware), it's to suggest albums that Kids Today (broadly construed) might like, if they gave them a listen. Maybe they'd also like Relaxin'! I don't know. But it seems unlikely that KT(bc) are going to get very turned on by post-bop and head-solo-head tunes.

… after all, by the time we reach the 50s and 60s, jazz was already pretty far from its origins as dance music. I swear to god I once heard a joke about a bebop big band with a radar player to warn the rest of them if they got too close to the melody. And Insterstellar Space was recorded in 67, Free Jazz in 60, Machine Gun in 68, Out to Lunch in 64, etc.
posted by kenko at 4:11 PM on November 14, 2009

As a followup: the whole "listening to contemporary bozo X rather than acknowledged legend Y" way of thinking about these things (not that I think you were calling Ware a bozo, though it often does end up working out to that effect) is best avoided, I think. Even granting that time is limited, I don't wait for one person to knock another off the hill before deciding to check h/h out; doing otherwise is what leads to a lack of vitality (literally insofar as it means, after a certain point, that no one actually vital—as in alive—will count as being worth your time).

Even if you do think that Ware and his cronies aren't a patch on the monumental past, it might still have been possible to argue that one should listen to the former rather than the latter at least sometimes on the grounds that listening exclusively to the latter will eventually get old and you won't be able to appreciate them as keenly anymore, having inured yourself to their charms through constant exposure, so that at least the former could serve as an occasional palate cleanser—but then the rekkid companies discovered that they could endlessly reissue the same stuff in new masterings and editions, and package up every audible ever committed to tape and claim it was necessary that you get it, too.
posted by kenko at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw Jaco steal Faze's entire tray of Rice Krispies Treats once. I was busy trying to write down the dial settings on dude's amp - it might've been a tray of snickerdoodles, actually. JAZZ.
posted by mintcake! at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

I feel sorry for people who have never heard good bass solos.
posted by kenko at 4:26 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jazz will never again appeal to a wide audience until they do away with the bass solo.

This ranks as one of the more igmorant statements I've ever read on metafilter; it's like saying Italian food would be better without tomato sauce, or Indian food would be better without curry, or Mexican food would be better without rice. Just as there can be crappy Italian food, etc., so too there can be plodding bass solos. But it may be that you just don't like jazz.

Here are just a few reasons why (there are countless others):
Charles Mingus - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Goodbye Porkpie Hat- Dave Holland Solo
Alex Blake Solo with Randy Weston
Ray Brown - Solo Bass on "Black Orpheus"
Christian McBride bass solo
Eddie Gomez w/Bill Evans and Alex Riel (bass solo starts 0:52)
Ron Carter solo - willow weep for me
George Mraz (w/Tommy Flanagan)
Charnett Moffett - The Art of Improvisation
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 5:06 PM on November 14, 2009 [9 favorites]

posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 5:07 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I liked igmorant better.

I thought Faze's comment was hilarious, BTW, even though I don't actually agree with the sentiment. But I reckon Faze doesn't entirely agree with the sentiment, either. I think he was just riffing, then got on a roll, and went with it. And maybe, just maybe, he graced us with that amusing little diversion because he knows that jazz fans all too often have a distinct lack of what we call "a sense of humor".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:20 PM on November 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

I tell you, though... NPR, WTF? "A Blog Supreme"? That's sooo bad. And not bad meaning good. Bad meaning bad.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:23 PM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

Metafilter: At Least It's Not A Bass Solo.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:43 PM on November 14, 2009

The weirdest thing is when I'm listening to jazz on my iPod on the subway, and then I get to the bass solo and it gets completely buried underneath the roar of the train. It sounds like the drummer is adjusting his set for a couple minutes and then everyone comes back in together. Wonder how that would go over live.
posted by danb at 6:49 PM on November 14, 2009

Jazz will never again appeal to a wide audience until they do away with the bass solo.

Yeah, it's like those contests where everyone gets a medal for participating. You know who the real winners are, and who are the "special" kids you clap for just because they managed to run in the right direction.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:00 PM on November 14, 2009

Brad Mehldau is tasteful and harmonic and all, but the only thing I thought when I listened to one of his CD's (The Art of the Trio, I think) was, good gravy, this guy can't swing at all. But boy was he tasteful, like some boring tapas restaurant your friends outvote you into going to.
posted by argybarg at 7:09 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

exploring this post is gonna take up a huge chunk of my time. and probably a nice chunk of my wallet. thanks!
posted by gnutron at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2009

I generally listen of jazz from the 50's to the 70's, and it's fair to say I look down on a lot of contemporary stuff. And for some reason I'm thinking of Jack White and the White Stripes in the rock context (who I can take or leave, not a fan or a hater). He spends a lot of time worrying about this "sound." He seeks out old, junkie guitars and amps, only records in analog, plays with a woman drums in a primitive way (and she's great for what they do, but she's no virtuoso).

The point is that to me great jazz music can't be separated from the recording conditions ("limitations") of the time. If Jimmie Smith was alive today he wouldn't sound anything like Jimmie Smith. He'd probably play a KORG with tinkly-tankly treble. Wes Montgomery would have dabbled with a MIDI guitar and never gone back.

This is terribly nostalgist of me, but I've never been able to dip too deeply into jazz music after the 1970's because it simply, subjectively doesn't sound right. Although there are plenty of jazz groups I enjoy seeing live. But they pretty much fall into the traditional mold. And make me wish it was the 1960's and I was at the Village Vanguard.
posted by bardic at 10:48 PM on November 14, 2009

"like some boring tapas restaurant your friends outvote you into going to."

I've always thought of Melhdau as the nerdy technician myself, the guy who mastered all the chops, knows all the theory (probably too much), and when I listen to him I just feel let down. His technical talent is obvious but yeah, it just doesn't get to me.
posted by bardic at 11:04 PM on November 14, 2009

Wes Montgomery would have dabbled with a MIDI guitar and never gone back.

Other than Allan Holdsworth, I can't think of a single jazz guitarist who does the MIDI guitar thing extensively.
posted by kenko at 11:09 PM on November 14, 2009

Eh, I was exaggerating. But he would have recorded digitally.
posted by bardic at 11:13 PM on November 14, 2009

Is the problem with the bass solos here that people are listening to shitty mp3s on headphones? Jazz is best heard live. Even the best recordings are still at least one degree of separation away from the sort of instant transcendental ecstatic infinite wow that live jazz can do to you. And yes, the bass solos, too.
posted by mike_bling at 12:49 AM on November 15, 2009

Why still all the controversy about Ware. Personally, I love his work, but shouldn't we all have gotten over the free vs. straight thing before I was bloody born (1976)? Can't we just acknowledge the real crime (fusion)? Stonewall! Stonewall!
posted by converge at 12:55 AM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

kenko: Other than Allan Holdsworth, I can't think of a single jazz guitarist who does the MIDI guitar thing extensively.

I seem to recall Pat Metheny doing a thing or two with synth guitar.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:42 AM on November 15, 2009

McLaughlin, Frisell.
posted by Wolof at 2:42 AM on November 15, 2009

I wish there was a way to get a Torrent of this while paying the artists directly.
posted by krilli at 4:13 AM on November 15, 2009

As someone who made his own modern jazz post a few years back (on which I see kenko commented—hi kenko!), I naturally welcome this post, though it makes me tired to see the same crap about jazz "cutting itself off from the roots of its vitality" that always pops up in these discussions. Ah, the weird shit these crazy people listen to today! What the moldy figs never realize is that the exact same complaints have been made ever since jazz moved up the river from New Orleans (as the old oversimplified cliché goes); when Louis Armstrong became a star in the '20s people were lamenting the loss of the old ensemble work, "true jazz," and when swing came along that was deprecated, and when bebop hit, oh my! Cue the chorus of "You can't dance to it!" laments...

I got news for y'all: jazz is alive and well and as vital as ever. There's danceable jazz, and revival jazz, and "I can't believe it's not Art Blakey" jazz, and ethnic jazz, and wild out-there jazz, and what they used to call "third-stream music" (much better these days than back when Gunther Schuller was trying to get it going; check out Franz Koglmann, Uri Caine, or Simon Nabatov)—any damn kind of jazz or jazzlike sound you could possibly want. If you want to huddle in your living room with your well-worn Pops or Prez or Bird or whatever blast from the past you consider the end point of "real jazz," that's your prerogative, but don't pretend you are qualified to comment on what's going on now. If you want to do that, get out there and listen to it: go to clubs, or at least click on the audio links in these posts and open your ears.

Hell, it's not all great (Sturgeon's Law applies, as always), and different strokes for different folks: I don't much care about either of the two general favorites in the poll, Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus. (Mehldau's pleasant, and I own and enjoy his Art of the Trio Vol. 1, but he's not exactly taking jazz in new directions. Same goes for James Carter; I have several of his records and was excited about him for a while, but it's really the same old same old.) But there's just as much great jazz coming out as there ever was. Here's a random list of some of the names I'd suggest to anyone wanting to investigate: Matthew Shipp, William Parker, Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton (though as Nate Dorward says: "After [the mid-'90s] comes the Ghost Trance stuff, which still makes me scratch my head"), Susie Ibarra, Myra Melford, Jon Jang, Tomasz Stanko, Either/Orchestra, David Murray, Marilyn Crispell, Affinity, Fred Anderson, Tom Varner, and of course the great David S. Ware, who's made some of the best music of the last twenty years; I have a dozen of his albums, so I speak with some conviction. Which brings us to:

> I mean, God bless David S. Ware, but I don't see any argument for spending time listening to him rather than [insert your preferred 50s/60s jazz legend here] that doesn't involve special pleading.

Give me a break. How much Ware have you heard? The man sounds like nobody else, and for a while he was playing the most vital sax to be heard anywhere. He's fallen away from his peak, but that happens to everyone unless they die young (a misfortune for them, but a boost for their reputation). You could, and people do, make the same argument about "your preferred 50s/60s jazz legend"—any argument for listening to them instead of Pops/Prez/Duke involves special pleading. Well, here's your "special pleading": they're new and different. Read what Patrick Jarenwattananon said in his NPR entry: "Even when I was living in New York, it took some time to unlearn the tendency to compare new music to the recordings of yesteryear." If you don't want to take that time and effort, fine, but like I said, you thereby give up the right to pontificate and be taken seriously.

Let me finish with a plug for my latest discovery, Rudresh Mahanthappa, an amazing alto player who's rediscovered his roots in South Indian music and started making an unclassifiable but irresistible kind of jazz that I would recommend to anyone without hesitation. Start with Kinsmen (Pi Recordings, 2008) and take it from there. And remember (like Duke said): "If it sounds good, it IS good."
posted by languagehat at 7:41 AM on November 15, 2009 [5 favorites]

GAH! Great post.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 12:54 PM on November 15, 2009

faze: i loves me a good thub-thub-thub, and god help me, i've also loved me a thub-thub-thubber. so while i respectfully disagree, i also envy the hell out of your writing ability.
posted by msconduct at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2009

I love Brad Mehldau.

It's actually sort of complimentaryry to him that he so dominates this discussion that commenter after commenter is trying to explain (unconvincingly) why he's not actually good.
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:01 PM on November 15, 2009


[yet another request for an edit function]
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:45 PM on November 15, 2009

to re-iterate comments by mike_bling:

The I-Pod is swell piece of technology, and I love its functionality, but unfortunately it does completely obliterate any proper appreciation of the contrabass-end audio signature, especially with those generic crappy ear-bud thingys.
posted by ovvl at 6:21 PM on November 15, 2009

Two things:

1) Hating bass solos is just stupid. Or rather, if you hate them, that's fine, all of us have our quirks (I'm not crazy about drum solos myself), but don't pretend that your personal quirks define jazz. I have been to at least two solo bass gigs (in one of them, the bassist said "And now, for variety, I switch basses!"), and I have at least one solo bass CD (Peter Kowald's great Was Da Ist). I love bass solos, and I think you're missing out.

2) I owe Joe Beese an apology—I was way too quick off the trigger in responding to his remarks about David S. Ware. I still think his point is mistaken, but I shouldn't have assumed he hadn't heard much Ware or that he was opposed to modern jazz. If you're ever in these parts, I'll buy you a beer, Joe.
posted by languagehat at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2009

I have been to at least two solo bass gigs...

Only one here: Dave Hholland, in the tiny little town of Schwaz, Austria, around 1980-something. It was killer.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:34 AM on November 16, 2009

Peter Kowald has a great bass duo cd with Damon Smith, Mirrors—Broken but no Dust. And Holland has a great bass duo album with Barre Phillips, Music from Two Basses! Both highly recommended!
posted by kenko at 9:44 AM on November 16, 2009

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