Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nonstandard Standards & Ethan Iverson

I just read on an eMusic post that JazzTimes is suspending publication. This probably says less about jazz than it does about the publishing industry, which is deep in trauma right now. But it does worry me.

The history of jazz begins around the turn of the twentieth century, and probably ends in the 1970's. That period constitutes a history because it has what Hegel called a dialectic: each generation establishing a statement to which the succeeding generation could reply. It is a common idea in modern aesthetics that such histories ought to go on without stop, but that is not usually how artistic genres work. Each reaches a point where further avenues of progress are limited or not available. I don't see anything in jazz that is really new after the avant garde movement and the fusion movement.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. It happened to classical music much earlier, and maybe it is the fate of all genres. But it means that contemporary jazz is left exploring the contours of existing jazz space.

What is to be done? Lenin's question is answered for jazz by such works as Jim Snidero's Standards + Plus, and pianist Ethan Iverson's Deconstruction Zone. The latter, Iverson's standards album, shows what is to be done. The greatness of jazz lies, it seems to this humble fan, in two virtues. First, it established a basic sound, a wide avenue in music space, that was persistantly and uniquely its own. Wynton Marsalis thinks that is rooted in blues and swing. Second, it developed a taste for mining all the riches of any music melody, and building new structures in any number of directions.

Iverson's trio certainly exemplifies the latter virtue. He takes a number of standards, and my goodness what he does with them! Who could have guessed what realms were open from starting points like 'I'm getting sentimental over you,' or 'Have you met Ms. Jones?'

Here are two Iverson samples. Reid Anderson plays bass, and Jorge Rossy is on drums.
Ethan Iverson/I'll Remember April/Deconstruction Zone
Ethan Iverson/Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/Deconstruction Zone
If you like these, get the whole thing. It's available at eMusic.


  1. I don't know if you're familiar with the Youngblood Brass Band (one of my favorite groups), who blend the New Orleans brass band instrumentation with hip-hop, as well as some other elements (into what they call "riot jazz"), which brings a sound different from other jazz I've heard (including other brass bands).
    I was curious whether or not you would consider that a new style of jazz?


  2. John:

    Whether this is something new in Jazz will be tested by time. Mixing jazz with other genres is a familiar game. It has rarely resulted in a new body of work. That is not to say that it shouldn't be tried. Let it rip and hear what happens.

  3. Being a late comer to jazz, this topic weighs heavily on me. As an aging, amateur musician, do I keep working on learning the upright, trying to play a genre of music whose audience is dwindling on a daily basis? Or do I tune up my electric and join an AC/DC cover band playing songs I can play in my sleep?

    But then, all I have to do, is listen to something like the Etan Iverson you included in this post and it's no contest.

  4. BIL: If I have revived your commitment to jazz, then this blog has done its work. Don't lose heart. I suspect that more jazz fans are tuned in to more jazz than ever before.

    Meanwhile, weren't those Ethan Iverson cuts marvelous? I can't wait for my eMusic downloads to refresh so I can get some more.