Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jazz & Accessibility 3

I got some great responses to my last post. I am responding to them here rather than in the comments section. Anon1 says this:
I can appreciate your 'Page One to Page Five Jazz' concept, but where would you classify Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus? For me, they both play bebop, but surely not very different from the music of Andrew Hill.
Ornette Coleman's "The shape of jazz to come" has tunes one can hum along to (Lonely Woman/Peace, thus bringing the start of free jazz into Page Three?
Excellent points. First, the five page accessibility scale should be applied to musical compositions rather than to musicians or albums. Any confusion on that part is my responsibility. A lot of the great hardboppers like Miles and Trane produce a long line of solid page three jazz before they became to experiment with the "new thing." Trane seems to have pretty much ended his career doing Page Four and Five jazz. Miles did it, and then went on to fusion. Likewise, Wayne Shorter's albums are mostly Page Three, but he does The All Seeing Eye, which is clearly Page Four. Nor is it that unusual to see solid P3 bop in one number and P4 in another. David Murray's Octet albums Ming and Home have both on them. But I think that the categories help sort out the differences. I could sell some of these songs to the strict hardbop fan, but he wouldn't be interested in others. The categories help. The case of Thelonious Monk is especially interesting. Many avant garde jazzmen were obsessed with Monk's music. But I think Monk wrote and performed solidly P3 music all the way. What Monk did that made him a God to players like Steve Lacy was to take the music apart in all sorts of creative ways. But Monk always put it back together again, and kept its concrete emotions intact. Monk played songs. He sang with his piano, and we can sing along.
A lot of Page Five Jazz misses me altogether (as does Dixieland), but I can enjoy someone like Anthony Braxton when he plays (bebop)tunes I am familiar with. Sometimes, I only appreciate/understand the more 'difficult' musicians when I listen on my i-pod to the same tune played by artists from different genres.
That is also an excellent point. Knowing the melody can help the listener navigate the racial interpretations of someone like Braxton. But that probably means that the music is P4 rather than P5. I also agree that a lot, if not almost all of P5 is incomprehensible. See my earlier post on Trane's Accension. I panned it. And that was the point of Anon2's note.
The last reminds me of my childhood red wagon, more specifically the left wheel on the rear axle, which, having enjoyed the special attention of a our local tom, squealed most loudly.
He is speaking of the Evan Parker number I posted. Yes, it does mostly sound like a sqeaking wheel. P5 jazz is by almost total absence of anything resembling a melody. That's surely going on here. Now I have come to enjoy a lot of jazz over the last year that I would not have been able to appreciate before. I am much more hesitant to rule anything completely out of bounds than I once was. It is possible that I would appreciate Evan Parker more if I actually played an instrument and knew music a lot better. But that is almost damning in itself. What's the point of music that only the musician and a handful of others can hear? Still, I did find some pleasure in following the winding and sqeaking of Parker's horn. If nothing else, he displays magnificient skill. But you won't be getting a lot of P5 jazz here. If there is a problem in my accessibility scheme, it lies in distinguishing between edgy P3 jazz and more melodic versions of P4. All I can say is this: ask whether the whole is more important than the parts, or vice versa. That will tell you whether it's P3 or P4. Here is a sample of good P4 jazz.
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry/Evidence/Evidence
This is Monk worship, to be sure. But I submit that abstraction here is not a device, as it was for Monk. It is the point.

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