Saturday, September 22, 2007

Talking Music

I haven't posted about music in a while, for a variety of reasons. Time, as ever, is one of them. Another is that my relationship toward music, particularly the acquisition of music and keeping up with new music, has changed dramatically this year, perhaps definitively. I am, for example, in the early stages of getting rid of a lot of the music I currently own. I will be allowing my subscription to The Wire to lapse. I may talk more about this later, but for now I'll leave this as a preamble.

I may be listening to less music, or buying less anyway, and unable to keep up in the manner I'd become habituated to, but I still read about it a lot online. And there's some great writing about music going on and some great conversations taking place. So I'm going to try to point to some of this stuff more. Here are a few:

The Bad Plus is a jazz trio that has become known ("notorious") for playing covers of rock and electronic songs. I've never heard them, though I'd like to. They have a blog. They seem really cool. I noted the word "notorious" because a lot of the press they've received has assumed that they are taking the piss when they cover this material. In this post, they take issue with this idea. A sample:
With the rare exception, TBP doesn't choose to improvise on music written from 1920 to 1965. Instead, we find it really interesting to search for ways to make rock, pop and electronica songs vehicles for contemporary improvisation. One reason that this material is not "standard" is that you can't call "Iron Man" at a jam session and pull off a mediocre interpretation of it the way you can with "All the Things You Are." There simply isn't a common language for it.

But just because the non-original songs we play can't be called at a jam session isn't the reason 10 English critics think it's a joke. Why do they think it is a joke? There are two possible reasons:

A) The original music itself is a joke: in other words, Nirvana, Blondie, Aphex
Twin, ABBA, Neil Young, The Police, David Bowie, Burt Bacharach, Tears for Fears, Black Sabbath, Pixies, Vangelis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Radiohead, Bjork, The Bee Gees, and Interpol is just inferior and not at the level of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and Hollywood. Implied is the phrase "rock is not worthy of the jazz tradition."

B) The way we play the covers appears like parody or at least highly ironic.

Both are wrong.

The whole post is worth reading, as is their blog generally, if you care about this sort of thing. I came to their post by way of this post at James Darcy Argue's Secret Society, one of the better jazz-focused blogs I've seen. And it was this excellent Secret Society post about irony and humor in music that led me there (link via be.jazz).

Brian at the new musicology blog People Listen to It wades into the authenticity wars with Why Beefheart? Paraphrasing Christgau, he says, "both Zappa and Beefheart are weird, but Zappa is being weird. Beefheart is weird. Thus Zappa is a poser and Beefheart is the authentic artist, worthy of reverence and whatever else." I disagree with this, for my own purposes. This kind of thing has nothing to do with why I like Captain Beefheart and don't like Zappa. Besides, I've been counter-conditioned to be suspicious of these kinds of claims to authenticity. (Though I think there is an authenticity that resides outside the familiar tropes, but I've no time to flesh that idea out here.)

Finally for here, at Parlando, in "Cool Ain't Shit", Scraps writes on the theme of "No one wants to hear that something they like is crap."

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