Thursday, April 03, 2008

I'm not there, that's not me

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I understand where you are coming from, but for the record my blog entry was not a response to that particular review. It goes much deeper than that for me. This notion of Radio Head and other interesting post rock groups being representative of a modern music edge in jazz, has come up in my sphere more than a few times in the last few months, I felt the need to explore it.

Its not the review that bothers me, lord knows I have received criticism that seriously runs the gamut from fantastic to depressing, and I welcome that, as it's really only a matter of perspective, and sometimes it's quite amusing! But it's the notion and environment that creates such commentary and speculation about music that i have heard spoken of by many people in many different ways regardless of cultural orgin. Personally i also don't see it as a European/American criticism debate in this particular case,and I think its not a good idea to simplify on the British in the way you've mentioned. I have a load of other feelings on the nonamerican/american music press debate that I have yet to discuss in full, but will do so at some point.

The entire issue for me really goes way beyond the arena of music criticism and way beyond the AACM continuum which is only one of a many (everchanging)segment of my
my artistic makeup. I see it as a discourse that goes more into the realm of social idealism, and deserves a more modern discourse.

I think the points you bring up are definitely valid and interesting, its just not really the discussion I was trying to have on my blog, and thats my fault for obviously being unclear.

I have put up clarifications, but they must have gone up after you posted your blog. I wish you would have seen them first. oh well!

I might take that blog down and write a more clarified response soon.

Thanks for contacting me about your blog posting.

All the best,
Matana Roberts

Ryshpan said...

Hi Matana,

Thanks for writing in for the clarification. I did only see your clarification after I posted, and this is more of what your essay sparked in my thought process than a real reply to your blog.

I don't mean to paint all British jazz media with one brush - I do tend to find the BBC misses the point in their reviews (as do I, apparently).

To me, it comes down to honesty and conviction. If you're playing a tune you believe in, it doesn't really matter who wrote it. Whether it was written by me, Jeff Parker, Joni Mitchell or Richard Rodgers doesn't make it quantitatively better or worse.

Anonymous said...

no worries, i just didn't realize how many different fragments of which the issue i brought can go into!It's very interesting....

thanks for your support of my work.

All the best,

Ali said...

I've thought about the "cover" issue so much that I'm sick of it. I'm inclined to just forget about what people think of it and do whatever I want to. As long as you're not setting out to "cover something people know to gain cred," it's honest enough. Besides... most of the critics of this idea are mouldy jazz figs.