Friday, April 06, 2007

taxonomy, jazz death III, language games

The above two cacti are considered the same species by most botanists. Echinocereus russanthus. The blonde on the left is sometimes called Echinocereus russanthus v. weedinii. But usually the two forms are lumped into synonymy.

Which brings me to another series of thoughts about jazz death. Jazz taxonomy is a nightmare. In botany, there's two opposed camps: the lumpers and the splitters. Basically, the lumpers look for similarities and the splitters look for differences. In the cactus family, the lumpers acknowledge something like 1200 species. The splitters, 3,500. There's clearly jazz splitters and jazz lumpers as well.

The best thing of all is when musicians and critics get rid of the term "jazz" altogether. It's the best thing because it squelches the discussion at the root. Can't claim jazz is dead if there's no such thing as jazz. haha. It's just music. But this isn't satisfactory at all for those who hold to phrases such as "the jazz tradition" or "jazz history." Or even tyros who have the balls to use a phrase like "Free Jazz Classics." It's as if some people would rather have a clearly defined form that is, in fact, dead, than not have a category at all. Lots of "jazz organizations" talk about their mission as one of "preserving the rich heritage of America's unique art form." Preserving. A fetus in a jar. Well, a young adult anyway. According to Professor Darius Brubeck jazz started to die in 1959, at about 39 years old.

Splitters want all the genres as specifically identified as possible. The extremes take what most people with passing familiarity would hear as one genre and atomize it. Free jazz, for example. What an idiotic name for a form of musical expression, first of all. Free jazz splitters go with experimental, avant garde, free improv, modal, creative music, third stream, modern jazz, collective improv, free fusion, harmolodics, new music, etc. Probably a bunch of apparent "types" that I'm forgetting. Every one of these categories is vague and linguistically unsatisfactory. All music is new, for example. Neoism is easily fetishized. Neoism is as much of a suffocating ideology as "preservation."

One of the comments appended to a YouTube video of the Miles Davis Quintet circa 1969, with DeJohnette, Holland, Corea and Shorter: "It's too free for me." Who gives a rat's ass? What makes people feel compelled to displays such as that? Or the following comment in the wooly threads under one of Cecil Taylor's videos: "He's been playing the same song for 30 years." It's endless. The most abundant element isn't hydrogen, but stupidity. etc.

Looking back at the racist, fascist and tragicomic history of jazz itself, the plantation/exploitation system, the pathetic co-optation by white hipsters in search of street cred, the ridiculous narrow mindedness of the American arts consumer in general, the internecine warfare among musicians and critics alike (Max Roach assaulting Ornette, rich white boys John Hammond and Leonard Feather arguing about Duke in the 1940s, Wynton's cabal gutting the amazing music that was already going on contemporaneously with the rise of the "neo-mainstream" movement), Chris Botti and Candy Dulfer and Sophie Millman (among the worst) and the Young Pussycats not far's a sickening spectacle, really. Jazz, word and ubergenre, die, die, die. Haven't we heard enough of what people think jazz is?

On KSFR, where I host a weekly show, there's another weekly program called "Giants of Jazz." Last fall, when my show was new and causing some raised eyebrows (specifically, playing The Artist in America from OC's Skies of America back to back with Jump Up from Jimmy Lyons/Sunny Murray/John Lindberg) "Giants of Jazz" featured two hours of...Bill Charlap. Yeah. Bill Fuckin' Charlap. Die, jazz, die!!


Brent said...

hm. bill charlap. hm.

i don't know what bin to toss *jump up* into, but man was that a stellar find for me. found a used copy at reckless records in chicago and found it just incredible. (whatever inspired braxton to break w/ lindberg? not that mark dresser was a step down by any means at all.) it's nice to have something so well-recorded for someone like lyons (who, for me at least, gets drowned out in some of cecil's stuff).

do you have the lyons box set? any recommendation either way?

peter breslin said...

Hi Brent- I don't have the Lyons box (that's from Ayler Records right?) I've heard snippets of it from the Ayler website. I would buy it in a heartbeat if I had the scratch.

Jump Up/What To Do About is amazing, isn't it? I also have the three record Push/Pull with Karen Borca/Roger Blank etc. Haven't listened to that in a long time-- you inspire me to dig it out.

Most Cecil recordings I find Lyons clearly and cleanly audible up front, over all the roiling. It can be hard to follow his lines ometimes. It Is In The Brewing Luminous and The Eighth are two that feature particularly amazing Lyons work.

Thanks for writing!

Chris Rich said...

Aaah the aggravations. When I attempted a book project with Lewis Porter I concluded a possibly useful term for the churning noise might be "Iconoclastic" because the people of the day were smashing many of the icons of the older work and seeking new and yet old things.

New in a move away from euro mutt conventions one might find on 'Kind Of Blue' but old in the look at the wooly early days of King Oliver with group improvisation rather than the division of labor model in the Big Bands and Boppish stuff.

Aach it's a handful. I'd rather do what I did best, help the musicians get money.

As for Mr. Lyons, a funny story. I got him some money in his last years to play in a Tufts Jazz Festival in the 80's and my friend Chimpy recorded it.

Chimpy is my archivist and has a recording trove he carefully preserves but is now a recluse somewhere in the Catskills.

The recording is on that Box set you describe as Karen Borca made a deal for it but no one could find Chimpy so I end up getting e mails and phone calls from her and others when I was a ditch digger in Seattle that lead to a semi fruitless search for Chimpy.

Black Saint has Wee Sneezawee but the label is semi moribund so the best available option may well be "Other Afternoons", originally recorded by french crooks BYG and now bootlegged by brit crooks from the Ace/Charley label.

I'm going to do a feature post in my blog about great jazz blogs and you will be prominently featured as Stochasticus is wonderful.

The idiot Free Jazz seems like a waste of pixels and Bagatellen, come on, a pile of mean twits and bad writers.

Conquistador is another well recorded Cecil and Jimmy event and an early one.

The Word-Drum said...

Great post.I saw a funny comment saying: "What causes jazz anyway?"
I made it to The Five Spot before it closed and heard Lyons with Cecil, it was great. "Conquistador" is also one of the best recordings of Bird's extension(?!)Jimmy Lyons.
I'll stop using the word jazz and the words peace, human rights and racism, because they don't have a clear definition either. Hey let's get rid of all words and just grunt.