Beyond pretension: On the afterlife of culture

In my recent halting quest to delve more deeply into classical music, it occurs to me that I’ve been pretty trusting of people’s advice. For instance, everyone who has an opinion seems to think that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is uniquely worthy of attention among his works, and so I got a recording of a performance from Netflix and watched it yesterday afternoon — turns out it’s pretty impressive. Similarly, I’ve eagerly acted on recommendations of books and recordings.

Why am I so trusting? Because basically no one is going to bother even claiming to have an opinion about classical music unless they know what they’re talking about to some degree. It’s totally “voluntary” to know about it — the culture has moved on, so there’s no payoff for pretension. Someone might tell you that The Wire is great just because they feel like they “should” think that; no one’s going to pull a similar move on Missa Solemnis.

In a way, this is a basic Adorno-esque point: previously elite artforms that have lost their accustomed role have a unique potential for “disinterested” uses. I wonder, though, how many other things are like this? Continue reading “Beyond pretension: On the afterlife of culture”

Saturday Night Jazz

It’s been quite some times since our last Saturday Night Jazz. I think tonight, for some reason I can’t quite put a finger on, calls for Joe McPhee’s “Shakey Jake,” from his amazing 1971 album, Nation Time. If you don’t know, Joe McPhee is a monster: his early stuff, like Nation Time, is completely unafraid of imitation (remembrances of Coltrane are in nearly every note) and repetition; his later stuff runs headlong for the breaking point, blazing adventurous paths that sometimes work, sometimes don’t.  I like “Shakey Jake” so much because it represents for me a sound of jazz not quite taken up–not even really by McPhee. AllMusic’s description of the track is nice enough to quote: “With the quintet expanded by an alto sax, organist, and electric guitarist, McPhee gets busy marrying free jazz to James Brown funk or maybe creating a vision of what would have happened if early-’60s Coltrane had revisited his R&B youth.”

Dig it.

In Memoriam: Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010)

I know that there are any number of sites offering memorializing words for and clips of Abbey Lincoln. This post is no different. But I simply could not resist.

The following song comes from Max Roach’s untouchably superb album We Insist! I was getting my feet wet with jazz when I first heard this album. I remember the day vividly: sitting in the stacks of the Cincinnati Public Library, feet propped up, headphones on. And then “Triptych” came on. With it, a whole new world of music, history, political protest, and possibility broke upon me — not bad for an eight or nine minute song with no recognizable words.

What I appreciated most about “Triptych” then, and still do today, listening to it as I type these words, is how Lincoln completely inhabits her joy and her anger . . . her sensuality as a whole. Her voice in this track, as it were, takes on physical form. Coupled w/ Max Roach’s drum, you’re thumped you in the chest, w/ her thumb, then her elbow; you see her chest heave, almost luridly; and you feel her breath inside your ear and against your neck. By the time the track ends, you’ve not so much “seen through her eyes,” like those good liberals would have you do, as you’ve been seen by her.

A Wednesday Night Jam Session

I was in Belgium last month, and was all set to go to Day Three of the always-pleasant Ghent Jazz Festival.  Circumstances intervened — a long, involved story whose upshot is me stranded in Leuven with my car locked in a parking garage that closed inexplicably early — and I simply couldn’t make it over there. Oh, but what, pray tell, did I miss? Only a thirty minute jam session that broke out spontaneously and that pulled in performers from earlier that night (including Vijay Iyer) and even subsequent nights!

I didn’t actually learn of this until I happened across a review of the festival last night, and was positively thrilled when I found decent video footage of the madness that played out on stage. This is stuff you hear about happening in smokey jazz clubs, but it’s very rare for it to break out at such controlled environments like big-budget jazz festivals. And, yes, nearly impossible for it to happen when you actually attend — it’s always something you hear about later. Of course. Continue reading “A Wednesday Night Jam Session”

Saturday Night Jazz: Mehldau / Radiohead

In anticipation of his new double disc coming out on the 16th, tonight, a bit later than usual, admittedly, we have Brad Mehldau & his trio interpreting Radiohead. Some purists out there, or maybe just those way too cool for school, may object to the ‘intrusion’ of pop music into their sometimes-overly-fetishized artform, be it a depressing rock bands or depressing folk singers (Nick Drake’s ‘River Man’, for example, weirdly, has become something of a new jazz standard), but I have no problems with it at all. If you’re amongst the purists, you’ve been warned.