Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jazz and "World Music".

There is a wonderful continuity between jazz and the many planetary traditional musics. Both forms make extensive use of 'sound color' or timbre.

An aspiring jazz player will find many chances to extend technique by making sound allegories of the methods used around the world.

And more than the sounds themselves, the context of living close to nature as a particular form of reverence, is an essential commonality between this American and those long gone West Africans who yielded up their magic in a field recording decades ago.

If you look at instrument classes as phenotypes, and search for correlations between cultures and favored instruments, you make many stimulating discoveries about human inventiveness applied to sound shaping.

For example, microtonal double reed instruments were wildly popular in many Islamic cultures of the middle east, often in large mass ensembles.

The ancient pocket violin, the lira or kemence shows up in various forms along the line of Alexander the Greats march toward India.

The cultures of South East Asia near the Indonesian archipelago have many varying kinds of Gong ensembles from the Gamelan of Java and Bali to the Kolintan groups of the southern Philippines.

The Andean Cordillera is home to a number of flutes and panpipes. Mexico has many regions where huge harps, once used as a substitute for organs in church music, are now common in folkloric groups from Veracruz to Oaxaca.

It could be suggested that much of the inventiveness in jazz is part of a search to make a bridge to the homelands through these sonic allegories.

Iconoclastic Jazz.

The so called 'Avante Garde' 'Out' or 'Free' jazz really grew from a deliberate attempt to move to a more African based aesthetic and away from mastery of Euro based values prevalent in the earlier, 'Common Practice' phase usually broken into 'the Swing era, various forms of 'Bop' and also called 'Mainstream'.

There were a tremendous variety of approaches to Iconoclastic Jazz, often rooted in a particular community of origin. Thus there was one approach among native born New Yorkers, another from Midwesterners such as the AACM in Chicago or the BAG from St. Louis and then there was another from L.A.

As circumstances eventually drove artists from all these far flung communities to New York, a gateway to work overseas, some blending occurred.

To my mind, a most significant element of this profoundly diverse period was a commonly held belief that method should be subordinate to purposeful expression and , in the most compelling instances, the expression intends to be a deep union with the mysteries of the natural world and a capacity for allegory through sound.

This is often the meta intent of the most compelling work and the great wealth of technique extension on nearly every facet of sound craft is almost a happy bonus to the real core value of the work.

And that sense of reverence for the natural world, that readiness to embrace the mysteries and that readiness to live a disciplined uncompromised life despite the added weight of challenge it puts on shoulders will always, to my mind mark the idiom at its very best.