This started as a comment, which the MySpace gremlins ate, on Matana Roberts' blog post about Radiohead, new standards, misconceptions of art, etc., which in itself is a response to this review of her Chicago Project album.
Firstly - I don't want to open the Europe vs. America can of worms again, but let's keep in mind that this review was written for the Beeb, who do love their Radiohead. And if he's looking for frigid straight-eighth jazz, he's barking up the wrong tree with Matana's lineage of Great Black Music à la AACM. It's a tradition he seems to be unfamiliar with, or at least unwilling to explore in great detail.
As an artist as well as a critic, I try to approach each concert and record I review on its own terms, without bringing bias or preconception to the party. Some people (musicians and critics alike) have dismissed the "x-plus-y-meets-z" formula of description as lazy. I've used it before, though I'm trying more consciously to avoid it now. It has a certain validity - to describe to the reader who wasn't at the concert or is unfamiliar with the artists on the discs by utilizing certain external touchstones. However, once the art is out there, it's open to the audience's interpretation. Matana and I have discussed this before - in a review of her Coin Coin performance last year I deemed it "theatrical." While it's not Matana's intent to create a piece of theatre, it is a dramatic, emotional and interdisciplinary work, and theatre is maybe the shortest, if not best, way of encapsulating that. Ultimately, artists can only satisfy ourselves - we have to be content that the piece has fulfilled our requirements, whatever they may be. They can, and often do, take on lives of their own that are entirely unforeseen to us.
As for the "mandatory Radiohead influence," it took me a long time to get into them, though now I am a convert. I got into it eventually through Brad Mehldau and Geoff Keezer covering their tunes. The 1990s developments in rock never really happened to me - adolescent angst didn't steer me towards Nirvana or My Bloody Valentine, but rather Monk and Medeski Martin & Wood. I think the jazz covers allowed me to hear through the production into the core of the songs. The melodies of certain Radiohead and Björk tunes are just undeniably strong and powerful. Mehldau has cornered the market on Radiohead and Nick Drake covers, and as much as I love Radiohead and Drake I'm hesitant to cover either of them anymore. I was being compared to Mehldau even before I truly appreciated him, and I'm none too eager to further those comparisons by echoing his repertoire.
I'm ambivalent about the idea of "new standards." Part of it reeks of marketing ploy, part of it pains me that artists who seek to expand their repertoire get painted into corners, but I also agree with it in the sense that we shouldn't regard the Great American Songbook as closed. In the Trio, we currently cover Stevie Wonder, Ornette Coleman, Björk, le Mystère des voix bulgares and Djavan, for no other reason that they serve as vehicles for our trio sound. I don't really care what the provenance of a good song is if it works in the group. In this case I'm not concerned about authenticity when it comes to ethnic music. We don't play "Erghen Diado" like a bona fide Bulgarian group because, well, that's not the point. The point is to use it as a canvas for our own expression, the same way we would a standard or an original composition.