Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Deaf Justice: A Whiter Shade of Pale

Imagine this: Ringo shows up in court one day clutching a copy of, let's say, "Come Together", spins the disk for the judge, and claims songwriting credit based on his artistic contribution to the recording. Next day, Roger Daltry marches in, spins "Baba O'Reilly", and marches out with megabucks as co-author with Pete Townsend. Robert Fripp hears the good news, heads for the halls of justice, and goes, "Hey judge, you're not going to believe this, but I never got songwriting credit for "In the Court of the Crimson King"! Not over by a long shot: here comes John Paul Jones, who (I assume) played the organ part on Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir", demanding that his already fat wallet be thickened a little with songwriting credit for his artistic contribution. (Note: John Bonham, Led Zep's drummer, did receive songwriting credit on this one.) And this is just the beginning. Wait until they hear about this in the other arts. Dancers, actors, orchestral musicians, lighting and set designers, maybe even museum curators, are going to see the light and head right for the local courthouse to get a piece of the creative credit action for all the works to which they made an artistic contribution. (Well, they did, didn't they? If you have ever seen a good and bad production of the same play you know darn well that your concept of the play is totally dependent on the performers and directors who bring it off. It's not just a different nuance, it's night and day: a work that works and has great artistic merit vs. one that doesn't, and doesn't.)

So you think this dystopic vision of endless nasty wrangling about authorship is just fantasy? Think again. Justice Sir William Anthony Blackburne has just made it a distinct possibility with his ruling that Matthew Fisher, who developed the organ part on the Procol Harum hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale", should receive royalties as co-author of the song.
In his decision he also pegged Fisher's contribution at 40% of royalties, and said the royalties are due from the date the suit was filed in 2005.

Blackburne's ruling is a complete farce, wrong on all three counts. First, Fisher is not an author of the song, which was written by Gary Brooker (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics). He is a contributor to the recording; and so is every other musician, engineer, and other personnel who made artistically significant decisions in bringing the song to life. Generally the terms under which someone works on a recording are established by a prior contract. Some groups, like the Doors, got around the difficulty by giving songwriting credit to the entire band, a practice which somewhat justifies Ted Gracyk's view (see Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock) that the recording just is the artistic product in rock. I think that oversimplifies things, though I can't go into the arguments against it here. In my view, there is a difference between writing a rock song and realizing it in the studio. There's a hierarchy of aesthetic products. Contribution to the recording doesn't affect authorhship of the song one bit. A song can be written in the back of a van. Many of them were. I wrote one while driving to Washington D.C. for a protest march, lyrics, melody and chord structure. Several other people contributed to my recording of "Victory Is Certain (Standing Up to Apartheid)"; I doubt they'll come and try to grab songwriting credit for it, though if they did, considering my profits, I think I'd owe them all of about a nickel each.

Second, where on earth did the judge get the idea that one instrumental part constitutes 40% of the total creative input into the song?? On that logic, the full artistic credits should amount to about 300%. The drum track, for example, is about equally as critical as the organ to the total artistic result. (I suppose it's too much to expect Sir Blackburne to recognize the critical role of percussion in a rock song. It's too much to ask most rock fans.) The lead vocals are even more critical. That's already 120%, and we still need to add something for creating the melody, the lyrics, and what I assume is some contribution from Robin Trower's sinewy guitar lines. Altogether, AWSOP has the creative energy of at least two or three songs. I knew this song was good, but damn! This is why there is such a thing as "legal reasoning", i.e., reasoning which differs from that of any normal human being.

Third, as far as I know, copyright begins at the time a creative work is completed. If he should have received songwriting credit, he should be due royalties from Day One; makes no difference at all when he filed the claim. Dating his royalty rights from the day of the claim flies in the face of international copyright law. For this ridiculous decision I suggest we send the Hon. Sir Blackburne back to law school... and, since it is rumored that he has enough musical training to know a sharp from a flat, but he obviously can't tell an organist from a composer, music school too.

Well, sorry about that, Johann, some organists are indeed compoers... Speaking of which, let's just straighten out a couple of bits of trivia. It has often been claimed - including in a NY Times report on Fisher's suit - that Fisher got the organ part from listening to Bach's "Air on the G String". It is reported elsewhere that it is actually from a movement called "Sleepers Awake" from Bach's Suite #3. The Wikipedia entry for AWSOP says it is inspired by both. Hello, the Suite #3 movement is Bach's famous Air; it was adapted by the violinist August Wilhelmj for performance by solo violin (playing on the G string alone) and keyboard, and given the name "Celebrated Air on the G String". As someone correctly commented on the Songfacts page for this song, the keyboard part in "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was not copied from this or any other Bach piece. Like the bit of Bachiana that George Martin contributes on harpsichord in the Beatles' recording of "In My Life", it is just an impression of the Baroque style.

Second, the song as a whole does bear some resemblance, at points, to Percy Sledge's recording of "When a Man Loves a Woman", as is pointed out on Songfacts and by blogger FireEscape, who cites RIck Wakeman as a source for the comparison. Well, yes, but... this is not exactly like "My Sweet Lord" and "He's So Fine", where the similarity is obvious, continuous and follows unusual tonal changes that cannot be a coincidence. Both AWSoP and WaMLaW are based on a very standard progression, and the instrumentation is different, so any direct plagiarism would have to be located in the vocal lines. But there is at most an overlap between the title phrase of the Sledge song (which he did not write) and some parts of the vocal line in AWSoP. The similarity is interesting, but no more so than that between many other popular songs. (Nota bene: I was just listening to a recently acquired CD of one of my favorite albums from the 1970's, 10cc's The Original Soundtrack. The closer on the original album is a song called "The Film of My Love" - a sexual double entendre, like many of 10cc's lyrics. It always sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. Well... I still love 10cc, but this song is basically a direct hit on Jacques Brel's "Sons Of...", which was recorded by Judy Collins among others. There is plenty of "borrowing" in rock, and some of it is outright plagiarism. I don't think AWSoP falls into this category.)

What this mess shows is that even a judge with some musical training is not necessarily capable of rendering a meaningful verdict on a question that involves philosophical questions in aesthetics. He hears the recording, decides the organ part is artistically significant, and bingo, out pops a ruling that revises the entire history of popular recording and possibly a lot more as well. Look, yerHonor, for every recording on which the contributions of the various musicians and other personnel are more than canned background to the creative work of some major artist, some royalties should really go to all the people involved, unless they agreed to a lump sum payment, in which case a contract's a contract. And generally the members of a band should not sign such contracts. In most cases, I think this is what happens. Fisher should have received quite a lot of dough from sales of the Procol Harum recording of "A Whiter Shade of Pale": it was one of the mot popular singles ever, and though it was not included on the original British version of their first album (for reasons known only to the God of Dubious Marketing Decisions, the guy who managed to excise "Paperback Writer", "Day Tripper" and "We Can Work it Out" from the Beatles' British album releases) it was included on a later U.S. release and on several Greatest Hits albums. [Note: It was standard practice in the UK in the 1960's not to include songs released as singles on the next album release, and very rarely did they release a single from an album that had already been released. This is why so many of the best and most popular songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc. never made it onto albums until either a "greatest hits" release or some collection like Flowers or Hey Jude. U.S. labels adopted a different practice and usually made the singles the selling point, if not the title track, of the album.
(Jan.5 2010, 12:57 a.m.)] If not, then what is owed to Fisher is something - a lot less than 40% if ordinary mathematics still holds in British courts - for his contribution to the recording. And yes, this might cause a certain amount of mayhem if it were applied to every recording ever made, but I have a feeling it is already the case. What Fisher really wants is a piece of the royalties from Annie Lennox's recording or AWSOP, and Sarah Brightman's performance, and Joe Cocker's, and... And that's just ridiculous, because you can record the song with no organ part at all, no riffing on Bach, not one note of Fisher's organ line, in fact you can record it with an orchestra of kazoos or a jug band or a Balinese gamelan, and it would still be "A Whiter Shade of Pale".

Well, gotta go. But I hear Al Kooper just filed as co-author of Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man". And something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Sir Blackburne?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Surf's Down, or To (Move) the Lighthouse, or Hey, Hey, You, You, Get Out of My Canyon

Let's go surfin' now, everybody's learnin' how... hey, who moved the freakin' breakers?

To the lighthouse, Virginia... hey, who moved the freakin' coastal phallus!?

Well, who cares about these seafaring squabbles (or is it "squalls") anyway? Enough people, it seems, to make headlines, op-ed pieces and letters in the Times. (I won't link to the Times because it requires registration, but if you want to see the articles go to nytimes.com, register, and do a search for "Montauk Lighthouse".) Yes, it seems that battle lines have been drawn at the water's edge: the Army Corps of Engineers have proposed building a big sea wall to save the lighthouse from a wipeout as the beach erodes before it; while the Surfriders organization is suggesting that someone beam the lighthouse up the hill instead. What they fear is that a serious wave, affectionately known as the "Alamo", would get clobbered by the new sea wall. Apparently, they're unmoved by the fact that if the "Alamo" indeed became a memory it would make a really catchy battle cry.

Meanwhile, 3 time zones away, skiers and snowmobilers in the forests of Utah are at loggerheads over whether the gassy vehicles should be given expanded racing rights in currently restricted areas of the Wasatch Mountains. And to prove that they mean business, some iron horse owners apparently ganged up on a yurt where skiers crash during overnight trips and bashed it up. Don't rush to judgment here; it is entirely possible that the goons were simply confused between a "yurt" and a "yeti", and thought they were attacking the Abominable Snowman.

So you think these conflicts have nothing in common? Just because one is East Coast, the other is West coast, one is at sea level, the other is up there in the UV-danger altitudes, and one group wears four layers from head to toe while the other wears one on a bad day? No, you don't really think that, do you. Everyone knows you can't judge a sport by its clothing, or lack thereof. (Actually, from the one time I tried taking a dip out at Montauk, I'd expect the surfing experience there to be enhanced by a few layers of insulation). Anyway, snow is just water in disguise, which I guess makes a mogul a wave in drag. So maybe snowmobilers aren't the winter wonderland equivalent of the Army Corps of Engineers; perhaps
a better analogy would be the Panzer Legions that rumbled through the Ardennes forest in the Battle of the Bulge. But the setup has a basic similarity: you've got this group of outdoor enthusiasts who think they have a grip on some really quintessential, low-tech human experience, something where you more or less place yourself in the grip of nature's forces and not only survive them but join them, plug into the cosmic material and feel a spiritual oneness with it (insert appropriate lines from Hindu mystical poetry here)... Okay, I got a little carried away, but basically, I am no stranger to this sensibility.

And on the other side you have, let's see, the same bunch of guys who were going to create a huge landfill in the Hudson River to make room for a superhighway-slash-luxury-housing-development known as Westway, until they got stopped (in part) by some striped bass who didn't really want to have to navigate this obstacle course; and some yahoos on powder-grade Harleys who want to experience the wilderness at 80 mph and about as many decibels. Did I slant the equation any? Sorry... never said this blog was going to be a lesson in objectivity.

Anyway, you see why the Parrot has his avian eyes trained on these contests. You have in the first corner a group that is having a kind of aesthetic experience, and they think that on some level, this is the kind of experience you should have, and that by the very fact that it involves communion with nature as it is, with very little interference from modern technology, they have a kind of right to this experience. In the other corner you have folks who also want to have some kind of experience, but this one requires the enhancement (?) of nature by some technical means that will in some way ruin the first group's experience. So it is argued that the famed lighthouse must remain exactly where it was built because the site is part of the lighthouse's aesthetic nature; and that snowmobilers have the right to enjoy the same nature that skiers enjoy, by whatever means they choose.

Now, to the extent that history and place themselves have a certain aesthetic appeal, the lighthouse stabilizer contingent at least has an argument. There is surely some greater aesthetic pleasure in seeing a pyramid exactly where it was built than, say, a site half a mile away where it was moved because the shifting sands threatened to destabilize it. How much is the question. I recently visited another famous lighthouse, the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
in Acadia National Park in Maine. This one might as well be blown up as moved to another spot. Location, location, location... it stands at the edge of a cliff, and is reached by a narrow winding path. That's part of the charm of this little place. The Montauk lighthouse also stands on a promontory, but isn't built into it in the same way. It's just not the same problem; moving back a little makes almost no difference from an aesthetic point of view. I am not going to get involved in the arguments over technical feasibility and cost; of course if it can't be done, it can't be done. But odds are it can; I mean, the Cloisters, a museum of medieval art in the Bronx, was moved here from Spain and rebuilt brick by brick, so I don't really believe it can't be done. And as for the cost ($27 million as some estimates go) you could say there are better things to spend money on, like hospitals and hunger. Then again, there are a lot more things to waste money on, like bombs and urban superhighways, and this at least would have a purpose in human appreciation over decades or centuries.

As for the NTV's (that's Noisy Terrain Vehicles), I'm not quite sure what there argument is. They kind of remind me of the guy who stood up at a meeting to support an oversized housing development in Brooklyn (about which more in a future post) and made the argument that "bulldozers are coming!" Yes, I see your logic... Well, why not tour the Wasatch in bulldozers? But I have a solution that should work for everybody. Ban the snowmobiles from recreational activities, but let them help remove all the skiers and hikers who end up stranded, lost, injured, exhausted, or stuck under an avalanche. That should give them plenty of opportunity to get out their dragsters and haul ass up Logan Canyon, the reverberating echoes of their engines suddenly sounding pleasant and reassuring to the desperate, frostbitten children of nature. Surely this is a solution worthy of Solomon; I hope the Forest Service is prepared to recognize me with a medal of honor or something.

Ultimately, this kind of conflict reaches into much wider issues in our aesthetic attitudes. Because something very similar again is going on when someone puts up a piece of public art which offends someone else, and defenders of the artist insist they are entitled to this aesthetic experience as a right, while opponents are equally convinced that they are entitled to the experience of not having to see this thing, whatever it is. Do the arguments over the appreciation of nature give us a leg up on these difficult public art issues? I think so, but I'm going to let my readers (I think I must have at least two by now) ponder its significance.

Disclaimer: When H.A. Monk is not winging it over the urban jungle looking for cultural issues and aesthetic trouble, he may sometimes be found on a Vermont slope, enjoying a moment of pristine isolation on his old scratched-up Rossi 400's, or body-surfing along the Atlantic coast (no board, I've never tried it) . Indeed he has experienced a few sublime, terrifying moments on top of a peak at Alta or Snowbird, and as I said, placed a toe or three in the chilly waters off Montauk. But as I have already disclaimed objectivity I don't see why I should apologize again.

Blogged Down

Two weeks! Or close to it... since I've posted. And this was supposed to happen daily. Well, apologies to my reader. (Where are those smiley emoticons when you need them?) I suppose the more sardonic among you might think that Mr. Monk finally figured out he can't cover culture and the arts in NYC all by his lonesome, didn't get out, and ran out of things to say. Well, no such misfortune; in fact my desk has been piling up with articles and reminders of things to write about. It's just the usual stuff that you can't live with or without, or rather, you can't blog with and can't live without: families, holidays, women, and that fatal necessity, fulltime employment. Speaking of which, I'm off in about five minutes, so let's just call this a promissory note for many wonderful posts coming your way soon, from surfers and lighthouses to department store windows to new CD's to brain research. Or to put it another way: the parrot has not flown the coup.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Jazzosphere: The Dave Douglas Quintet at the Jazz Standard

It all started, I guess, with Ken Burns and his famous (but unseen by me) jazz history documentary. In that show, Branford Marsalis apparently made the comment, quoted on Wednesday by Nate Chinen in the New York Times, that "jazz just kind of died" in the seventies. Next in the chain of events, as Chinen relates it, would be a book by Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. (The title is enough to tell me this goes high on my reading list for the short term. Which means it is only behind 25 other books.) More pertinent, jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas read the book and commented on his blog that it might help explain the view Marsalis put forth. Then there was apparently a lot of listmaking and other unsavory activities in the jazzosphere, culminating in a comprehensive list of favorite or influential jazz albums from the 70's and 80's, or thereabout. ("Thereabout" means some of the albums actually date from the early 1990's.) So the Times, which has quite the ear to the Net these days (recall that they tracked down guitar whiz JerryC of Youtube/Pachelbel Canon fame, among other things) puts the story of this blog brouhaha in print, whereupon yours truly reads it, and finds that the very same Dave Douglas who started this thread was performing at the Jazz Standard last week and decided to go see them (partly for the benefit of my own audience - which I guess will remain pretty small if I keep taking a week to post a story.) From there it is but a short step to the present blog, with the additional link that the entire Douglas show, starting last Tuesday, was recorded and put on the band's blog by yesterday morning. ($7 for the full set; but the sound samples are free...). It wasn't there when I started writing this, and if could learn to write posts shorter than James Michener novels it might not have been when I finished... but it's there now.

I think I have some claim to expertise in classical, rock and folk music, having performed and written in all those styles. I make no such claim about jazz, where I figure as a mere listener. Nevertheless, when you say "seventies" and "jazz" things start to click for me as much as with any other musical connection in my life. For in 1971 I began my (rather extended) undergraduate career, at Northwestern University, just north of Chicago. It was in my freshman year, I believe, that I saw what I think was my first jazz concert, with a group of my fellow students. And my first direct experience of this music was no trifle: I was sitting within spitting distance of Pharoah Sanders, whose cut "The Creator Has a Master Plan" was already legendary even in a young, white, middle class, Midwestern college crowd. This was like the definition of "alive and kicking", if you know what I mean; the concept that jazz "died" here would have been incoherent to me at that time. Later on, at Northwestern, I saw Weather Report, who blew me away (I know some of you must appreciate puns), and even more of a mind trip, an outdoor concert featuring a guy who I was told was the greatest guitar player in the world, which I frankly did not believe since I knew that that was Eric Clapton and he wasn't coming to Northwestern. So I've been wrong once or twice in my life: Larry Coryell and the Eleventh House played a gig I'll never forget, totally changing my conception of what could be done with a guitar - and possibly a trap set too, courtesy of Alfonse Mouzon and the largest array of skins I had ever seen. I believe it was that concert where one or both of the Brecker brothers joined Coryell as well. "Just kind of died"? Not for me.

I was also in the school orchestra, and though we did not play jazz (or even Gershwin), there was even a connection there. While I was sawing away at the violin parts in orchestral scores from Dvorak to Lutoslawski, the bass lines were partly being held down by Steve Rodby - later to join the Pat Metheny group and record
Offramp and other fine albums. The music school at Northwestern was also one of the few in the country that offered a major in classical saxophone, thanks primarily to the presence of Fred Hemke. (You can Wikipedia him for more info.) To my frequent chagrin, I would barricade myself in one of the practice rooms in the little building we called the Beehive, rosin up my bow, start tickling the strings with some passage from Bach or Mozart, when suddenly a baritone sax would explode through the wall like a foghorn, rattling my music stand and everything else. Okay, so they were playing Glazounov not Gillespie. But you don't get a school full of classical horn players, right outside Chicago, in1973, without being bombarded with recordings of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, not to mention the Modern Jazz Quartet and plenty of classic stuff. Northwestern had its own saxophone ensemble too; in fact, I heard them perform John Cage's 4'33" (imagine a smiley face here; but it's true, and Cage was there for the performance). One of my theory teachers was a jazz trombone player. These connections are only meant to say that I was not just learning to love Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington and Django Rheinhardt records then, I was pretty much surrounded by jazz culture.

So to put it mildly, I just ain't open to the idea that jazz "kind of died" in the seventies. Yes, AEC could be strong medicine at times. So there was John McLaughlin, or Chick Corea, or McCoy Tyner. Or Keith Jarrett, whose Bremen-Lausanne disks were not a heck of a lot less well known among my college friends than the latest Pink Floyd or Moody Blues album. (I saw Jarrett at the Village Vanguard a few years later, and was disappointed that he played for only about 25 minutes of a short 45-minute set. Nothing like the continuous improvisations of the Koln or Bremen-Lausanne concerts.) If you wanted something really accessible there was Ramsey Lewis. Accessible, I say, not "dead". Joni Mitchell was touring and recording with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express; college-oriented groups like Soft Machine were making jazz a central component; and Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and even Chicago were increasingly incorporating jazz influences. Jazz was starting to inhabit rock as much as the other way around, and my generation was sucking up this music. For me, it was the Jazz Age.

I won't say too much about the above-mentioned superlist, especially after I just did a superlong piece on a rock superlist. This one is very curious in certain ways: neither Coryell nor Lewis are mentioned even once, but Joni is, along with Frank Zappa and Alan Holdsworth. However, Joni's best jazz-infused album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, is mysteriously left out. Ditto McLaughlin: several good albums listed, but no mention of Inner Mounting Flame, hello? Somehow Santana got on the list, but not, say, Michael Urbaniak, or - yikes - Gil Scott-Heron! And if we are going to fast forward as far as people like John Zorn and Bill Frisell, who have just about as little to do with the 1970's as Nirvana or the World Wide Web, I think there's a lot more that could get included. Ditto on the rewind: some older artists who were still working in the 1970's are mentioned here, but not Stephane Grapelli, who was joining contemporaries like Gary Burton (Paris Encounter, 1972), or Dave Brubeck, who according to one discography I saw had 15 major label releases in the 70's. Speaking of Burton, how did all these jazz buffs miss Crystal Silence, his collaboration with Chick Corea? Another direction that gets a Page Not Found on this list is basically anything with a "world" influence. There isn't a jalapeno's worth of Latin jazz on the list, even Gato Barbieri doesn't exist, not to mention Milton Nascimento or Willie Colon or anything that spicy. All that said, for people like me whose knowledge of jazz is far from comprehensive (I've never even heard of some of the artists on the list, and there are plenty of others whose music I am not familiar with), this is at least an opportunity to explore.

In fact, it makes me wish I still knew Jake. I wonder if some of the people in the jazzosphere knew Jake. From the time I was ten years old until I moved back to Brooklyn in my late 20's, I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There was a gaunt, middle-aged Black man around the neighborhood, and one could have been forgiven for mistaking him for a tramp. He walked the local streets in tattered clothes and shabby boots, with a bucket of sudsy water, a sponge, a brush, some towels and a lot of car keys. These implements were employed as you might guess, in washing cars, which was Jake's main source of income. He would wash, wax, sometimes park and do other car-related chores for a modest amount of cash. Not much of a life, you would think, but it's better than starving, and at times better than sitting behind a desk pushing papers. Jake lived in the basement apartment of a building across the street. So what? Apparently, Jake the carwasher had one of the largest private jazz record collections in the U.S. I heard people say second or third largest, but I don't think anyone knew. It was large enough, I suspect, that I could have found most if not all of the jazz albums on this list in Jake's basement apartment. Or maybe not; maybe he just had an exceptionally large collection of earlier jazz. So who knows more about Jake and his collection? Send me a comment please.

I did start to write about Dave Douglas, didn't I? I hear only a few jazz concerts a year, so I like to be rewarded when I go. I was not particularly rewarded recently when I decided to do my birthday dinner at Cleopatra's Needle, a restaurant and jazz joint on the Upper West Side. There I heard the Jun Miyake Quartet. Miyake's recordings, to the extent I could find samples on the web, sounded intriguing enough. But in this venue practically everything I heard was so traditional I kept waiting for them to stop messing around and start playing. The Dave Douglas Quintet, on the other hand, came out swinging (not quite literally) and didn't quit until they had explored some post-Trane, Miles-inspired territory that for me rings as true now as it did in the late 60's and 70's. There's been plenty of recidivism in jazz since then, plenty of "light" and "smooth" and "retro" and "pop", so I'm still thinking of what Douglas does as progressive, even if it is shy of what Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman or the AEC were doing a while ago. There was the requisite bit of atonal improv occasionally, and some of what Village Voice jazz critic Francis Davis referred to last week as "free meter" in a review of David S. Ware's new album. (I make reference to this review partly because it is one of those rarities in Village Voice culture, a piece that prefers to be informative rather than relying on wry, self-indulgent references to artists and recordings that only a handful of people in the world besides the reviewer will ever recognize. And partly because I caught a Ware concert at the Knitting Factory before it moved downtown and became a rock club, and much of what Davis says brings to mind something I had been thinking about that concert. And yeah, he should also be on the list, since it goes clean through the 1980's.)

If Ware does the unthinkable with standards, Douglas did the thought-provoking with originals (club name notwithstanding). Without overtaxing his cornet he led his band through harmonic and rhythmic ideas that provided a wide range of choices for development. And they responded accordingly, from fairly straight modal riffing and crosstalk between instruments to sequences that could have come out of a piece by Luciano Berio or Pierre Boulez. For one example that doesn't require a financial commitment, check out the sound samples of "Twombly Infinites" from the studio recording and then the live set, where keyboardist Uri Caine creates a canvas that is much closer to postwar expressionism than than the melody from which it emerges, without radically altering from the spirit of the piece. But perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the musical development in these performances is the staccato soloing of Donny McCaslin. While I'm not sure this style is the Next Big Thing in jazz improvisation, McCaslin is very effective in raising the these numbers to a climax, in addition to contributing plenty of appealing melodic variations.

Okay, that's it for the review; check out the concerts yourself if you want, the MP3's are all online by now. I said I was going to focus on art and public life in this blog, and
someone might be asking what this has to do with that. Whereas I'm thinking, how can I even get into the social and cultural issues that get raised by all this. And the truth is, I can't since I'm already five days later publishing this than I was hoping to be. So let me just allude to them, with a promissory note to keep them on as leitmotifs in future posts.

First, what is the impact of the fact that the input of so many isolated but knowledgeable people can coalesce in a space open to everyone, in a matter of hours or over the course of months, on a chime-in-when-you're-available basis, on an issue like the quality of jazz recordings in the 1970's? I mean, the fact that they can is apparently a very positive thing, but on the other hand, does it create a kind of de facto canon of respectable sounds in a genre that would have been happier waddling in an uncharted bog of opinion? Or does it provide a useful reality check on the lingering impression that jazz "kind of died"
in the 70's?

Funny thing is, the list doesn't really answer what is probably the main component of that perception. For it is surely not that nothing new was happening in jazz in the 1970's. Fusion, atonality, world influence, electronic manipulation were all more or less new, but the list embraces all this (except Latin and other third world music, which just seems like an oversight). The objection really is that jazz got all mixed up with rock, and that this sapped the energy from it. But of course the list hardly rejects fusion, even if it leaves out some of its major exponents. So in fact, these blogs do not answer the critics, but kind of absorb the criticism. Besides, most people know that while people like Chick Corea were doing the fusion thing with Return to Forever they were doing other things on the side, possibly deeper and certainly more personal and experimental, stuff that is available on minor labels and bootlegs.

The other side of the criticism is that
no one of quite the stature of a Coltrane or a Miles Davis emerged in that decade. But this is not addressed by a list of favorites; I don't think that the entries for Charlie Haden or Dewey Redman or Joe Henderson mean that these folds were comparable to Bird or Miles or Coltrane in creativity or influence. (One blogger did make that claim for the "American Quartet" of Keith Jarrett et al; I'm not going to judge that, though I'll say that the Koln Concert disk doesn't quite do that for me.) I'm not sure this has any significance anyway. Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollings both turned 40 in 1970; Cecil Taylor was 41. Sanders had just released Karma the previous year. Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan were 43. Etc. Okay, granted the start date of the list was supposed to be 1975, got pushed back to 1973, and I'm talking about 1970. But the point is, none of these artists turned to fusion, and I find it hard to believe that every one of them was over the hill as an artist. Only rock stars and hippies thought that anything "died" at the age of 40, and at least the rock stars quickly learned the error of that as they quickly rounded that corner and continued to develop. What I'm getting at is that nothing about these blog lists of favorites really threatens to establish a canon in the negative and unhelpful way that some conservative academics try to foist on us whitewashed lists of Great Books and the like. So, maybe for all the power of communication, there is neither artificial canon construction nor emergent consensus here.

Second, what about this: if someone can post a professional quality recording of his concerts for sale in less than 24 hours, using relatively widely available technology for both recording and distribution (a process that would once have taken months and all the financial and technical resources of Atlantic Records or EMI), why do we still live in a world where 90 minutes after a tsunami hits some islands north of Sumatra, people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere don't know that they are in danger? This is a rhetorical question, obviously, but I think it leads to a lot of more serious questions about the uses of technology, the distribution of wealth, and our priorities in this age of constant technological revolution. If a mere blog could conceivably have saved a few hundred thousand children from drowning, then even our genuine concerns about the effects of war, AIDS and other social disasters may not be the best ordering of priorities. The utilitarian moral philosophy counts quantities of happiness and misfortune in making moral evaluation; and though I think this is not always the best measure, there is something about tens of thousands of bodies washing ashore that says to me that the same technology that put Dave Douglas's concerts on the Internet the next day could make this a heck of a lot better world than it is. What do you think?

Plenty more directions this could go in, but I do want to publish it some day. Like today. And I promise, for those who find my lengthy spiels the least bit interesting, to try to do more frequent posts with less material.