Friday, July 31, 2009

A Music Industry Mystery

Here's another rant. This ones not about copyright conundrums or eMusic pricing, it's about the fact that a lot of classical jazz is not easily available and there is no excuse for that. Tonight I did a search for two recordings: Club Session with Ken Colyer, and Danny's Dream, by Lars Gullin. Both are listed in the Penguin Guide to Jazz (may the book be praised!) as items in their Core Collection; but neither seems to be available in any form.

This makes absolutely no sense to me. Someone surely holds the copyrights to these recordings, and you'd think they would want to make at least a little money by selling them. Maybe the demand is so low that it won't pay to press some plastic, but how much can it cost to make them available for download at iTunes or eMusic? If the copyright holders can't afford this process, surely someone at the aforementioned outfits could do the job in a few minutes. Given current technology, nothing that exists in some format should be unavailable. A conversation tonight with a friend who is a much more serious collector than I am convinces me that there is a wealth of recorded jazz out there that is off the net. Music industry: for heaven's sake, and mine, get off your duff!

Well, one relatively obscure recording I did find at eMusic was Free Fall, by Jimmy Giuffre. Giuffre was another multi-instrumentalist (clarinet, tenor and soprano sax, flute, bass flute (bass flute?)). He also managed the transition from big band and folk jazz to an astonishingly inventive form of free jazz in the 60's, when he would have been in his forties. I have learned a lot from The Jimmy Giuffre 3, with Jim Hall on guitar.

Free Fall is pure page four jazz. It is a mix of solos and trios, with Paul Bley on piano and Steve Swallow on bass. No drum. Not only is the beat missing, but the composition abandons melody as note to note narrative in favor of a tonal smear to smear approach. The story is told in an impressionistic language of subtle changes in texture.

Take a listen and hear what you think. I'm still thinking. But I find the problem worth scribbling about. It is nothing short of astounding that hairless apes should carve out an existential dimension as rich as this. I note that Giuffre had an odd sense of humor. His album covers feature men in brown jackets with narrow, black ties. Lawrence Whelk comes to mind. Boy is that not it!
Jimmy Giuffre/Threewee/Free Fall

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