Thursday, April 04, 2002

From the In Box: Music to My Ears VI
I read your review and would like to discuss it with you a little. I have a sense that you relate to this music from a slant such that you do not have a large interest in how traditional western instruments (I don't mean electric guitars) are and have been used in the 20th or 21st century -- and that your main interests are literature and more electronically produced sounds. I also have a sense that your text and context for black music is possibly narrow or more mainstream. I say this because you are obviously aware of Keith Jarret and Ahmad Jahmal but possibly unaware of Paul Bley and Lowell Davidson.

This could be important because it could bring you past the veneer, the mannerism or style, and tune you into the subtleties or perhaps the source. In this case with regard to this music (not just my music) there is less of an emphasis on "symbol" and "matrix" and more of an emphasis on the subtle reactions of human timing. This is a sort of ensemble technique that is extremely human and, much like any human relationship, took my ensemble years to work out.

My main interest in this area of music is rhythm. Rhythm is still the unexplored territory in music. Very little was written for percussion until the 20th century. In black music (This is more of an umbrella term that would include jazz. I'm not referring to African music here.), the trap set is an extremely advanced instrument in that it requires independence of all four limbs and is not particularly popular among American children learning music but obviously plays a powerful and major role in popular music. Not all rhythms exist in a state of thesis or anacrusis. In the masses of complexity that embroider the rhythms of the world's music, so many of these beats or pulses occur in other places.

In literature I'm sure you must engage in some discussion of form, structure, and content. I gather you do not make these connections to music.

I am still considered young in the field of music at age 38, but Laurence Cook, I believe, is 62 years of age, and I feel you do not know very much about him. So here is some information.

About Laurence Cook: Laurence Cook studied painting at the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston and later learned to play piano, vibraphone, and drums. He has been a major figure in the jazz avant-garde since the 1960s on 22 recordings, including "Revenge" and "Dual Unity" with Paul Bley; "Skillfullnes" with Alan Silva, "Ritti" with Joe Morris; "Fuzzagainst Junk" from the Vision 1997 Festival with Thurston Moore; "Triplet" and "Fire in the Valley" with Jemeel Moondoc; "Divine Mad Love" with Sabir Mateen; and "November 1981," "Thoughts," and "Son of Sisyphus" with Bill Dixon. He has worked with Sam Rivers, Alan Silva, the Brecker Brothers, Robin Kenyatta, Mark Whitecage, and Barre Phillips, among many others.

A paraphrase: "The older jazz is like representational painting where you paint a portrait of a person or a thing. That's playing on a song and its chords. The new music is like modern painting, action painting. You concern yourself with the surface of the canvas, the brushstrokes, the texture of the paint, the total two-dimensional surface, concern myself with the way the drum stick strikes the cymbal, the surface of the drum heads."

How you managed to say so little about Laurence Cook -- who is one of my mentors -- is beyond me and leads me to believe that you have very little connection to the text of this art form and, as a result, I sense a lack of propriety in your comments.

I feel a bit ridiculous because I am not trying to attack you and yet I feel I am by default. No one has yet been willing to review the CD, and I assume that if you didn't like it you wouldn't have reviewed it at all. So the fact that it is on your "media diet" means that you want people to listen to it. Music is really all I have so I feel I am slighting myself in my response to your review. My studio is always open. Anybody can come and listen to something from my collection or perhaps Rob Chalfen's collection as well.

Just so there's no misunderstanding, let me expand on something I wrote above. I use the term "black music" as an umbrella term. It does not refer to color as much as culture. Though my interests are the avant-garde (whatever that means) this term would cover a wide range of music: gospel, spirituals, field hollers, jazz (really a bad term), R&B, soul, rap, hip-hop, rock (what people do in the black church), etc.

One has to beg the question: What is black music? What is white music?

I live in a neighborhood with about five black churches. If you want to know what I mean, come to a service at one of them. You will find some white people in the congregation who are totally enamoured of the sublteties involved in singing from this perspective, but, of course, Cambridge is not like Boston.

It's more of a matter of cultural perspective than color. Paul Bley happens to be a white player. If it were just color, then I suppose Anita O'Day would be white music and Jesse Norman would be Black music. The whole issue of black culture in music is not very fashionable at present. It almost explains segregation in the music scene. Most of the Boston improv people seem to reject these ideas in favor of what they might call "classical sensibilites" or just free improv. Of course, because we all know what a major scale is, we are all classically trained. Aesthetically, this is viewed as more sophisticated because it is seen as some sort of cultural marriage (that never took place). I have never tried to promote myself this way.

The sad part is the political aspect of it, in which we believe that an artist is more broad, versatile, or creative because he records symphonic music -- for example, Keith Jarret, Chick Corea, and Wynton Marsalis. People like Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, etc., never recorded any music other than their own. Would we have thought that they were more creative if they had recorded the Haydn trumpet concerto (like Wynton), and if they were unable to do so would we have scoffed at them for their lack of classical sensibilities? Then, to add injury to insult, they never even talk about the fact that Wynton Marsalis is one of the few black trumpet players who was allowed to play first trumpet for the symphony orchestra. Nevertheless, Miles and Dizzy have become some of the essential people who we must deal with in this music If you read the interviews with many of the great white players in the music, they will tell you who and what subtleties they admired in the music and the musicians.

Some of these comments may seem pastiche, but I find a lack of awareness and interest in what these subtleties do in the music. I say this because rhythm is still an unexplored territory in music, and much of the sound art, noise, and free improv that I hear now is very square -- though there's a lot of imagination with regards to timbre and noise, which I wholly support.

The reason I object to the term jazz is because it limits your social stance, codifies the financial area available to you, and in academia leads people to believe that you are musically illiterate. In other words, it's a token art form, and they will not hire you except as the one person on the staff in most music schools.
-- Eric Zinman

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