Tuesday, October 17, 2006

wtf? There's an Ornette Coleman debate??

Sometimes something so breathtakingly unexpected leaps out at you and you have to reconfigure your whole framework. Such is the case with a bunch of stuff on the web regarding so-called "outside" or "free" jazz.

I thought that people had become more comfortable with so-called "free jazz." Of course, I was wrong. "Free jazz" or "outside" or "avant garde" or whatever are themselves terms that are red flags for me. Why do you even have to say what it is? Why put a label on music that's been crucial to jazz evolution for almost 50 frikkin' years now? It's just great music. And who are Wynton and Branford? I heard "Blackzilla" on the radio today and it absolutely bored the everlovin' crap out of me. A sad, pale, thin, boring rip off of "that wild Trane stuff." Branford does better when he's playing new age riffs over sappy orchestrations. It's particularly revealing that Branford M continues to make proclamations about some sort of "ownership" of the music as a result of study and imitation of past masters (see the end of Darius Brubeck's essay).

Darius Brubeck's extremely odd essay about Ornette (on Jack Reilly's blog) doesn't really take a position. It seems clear to me he has not a clue what OC's compositional and theoretical approach is really about.

Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus takes a stab at a clearer and more cogent analysis of Ornette's methodology on his blog.

This still seems tangential somehow. And the truly ironic thing about the Great Ornette Coleman Debate of 2006 is it's nearly 50 years old. Where has everyone been?

HurdAudio posts an excellent rebuttal to Brubeck's "essay."

Still, it amazes me that Ornette Coleman's music and his presence in American life could still be cause for controversy. Perhaps it is a measure of the media success of The Marsalis Factor, this culture-war idea that jazz has to be "legitimized" as an art form, safe for repertory and the concert hall, as "worthy" of serious study as "classical music." The irony is (partly) that The Academy has supported probably far more creative composers and musicians than it has jazz traditionalists bent on "preservation." Well, there are a lot of ironies.

Another irony is that the musicians themselves, who have the least distinctive personal visions or voices, are the ones standing back from *sound innovator and manifest visionary* Ornette Coleman and talking the loudest. The strange aspect of jazz as a cultural product of legitimacy is it leaves behind the phenomenon of what Gil Evans called the "sound innovator." You put on a recording of Louis, Dolphy, Hawkins, Ayler, Threadgill, Bowie, Duke or Garner and you immediately know who it is. It's not about something that can be preserved or archived. And perhaps it is precisely because many so-called jazz musicians now have absolutely no identifiable sound and nothing recognizable as uniquely theirs in their vision that they have returned to "debating" the merits of musicians who make an indelible mark the instant you hear them.

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