The Year in Jazz (As If Things Could Get Any Worse)
Chris Kelsey
1

Chris, you make two points: (1) there’s lemming-like behavior among jazz critics and (2) the proof of the lemming-like behavior is that the critics’ consensus choices are unlistenable.

I’m sympathetic to both points, particularly (1), but let me offer a mild rejoinder.

Lemming-like consensus is a problem if it genuinely prevents criticism from selecting based on quality. I rely, and probably a lot of other people do too, on the advice of tastemakers to try out new and unusual sounds. Otherwise I would probably listen to Count Basie’s “One O’Clock Jump” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” every day (in fact, I do listen to those records almost every day). But challenging stuff requires a modicum of trust in the critical community. Therefore your concern is a serious one.

As for (2):

The fine poet Philip Larkin, an early champion of jazz in the 20s and 30s, said the same sort of thing you do, but about Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. (Ornette and Cecil, he would have crapped his pants.) We risk sounding like moldy figs if we poo-poo Iyer, Coleman, Sorey.

Vijay, in all honesty, I haven’t listened to since I saw him give a free lunch concert when he and I were both students at UC Berkeley more than 20 years ago. Just can’t muster the enthusiasm to sit down with any of these critically acclaimed records. So I’ll reserve judgement.

I listen to about one in every three Steve Coleman records these days, and I admire them even if I don’t love them. And I actually go back to the 80s M-Base stuff of his with some regularity. But I can’t entirely disagree with you.

As for Sorey, I actually have listened to Verisimilitude a number of times. I have to run with my dog very early in the morning, before the sun comes up, and the record suits that still pre-dawn environment, which permits careful listening and reflection. Do I love it? I don’t know. But I feel enriched by it. And I will listen to it — all the way through — again.

So I’m not as ready as you to write off the critical intelligentsia.

That said, would love to hear what records moved you in 2017.

Happy New Year!

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