In fact, tried and tested is the best. Here’s a list of the top TV series, for example. Notice that the #1, Breaking Bad, ended in 2013. If people are still talking about it after so many years, it must be really good. Whatever effect marketing or “coolness” have has dissipated after some years.
I’ve heard this sentiment before: “I don’t go for the latest, I only read classics.” Or: “There’s no point in wasting time on new TV shows, just watch ‘The West Wing.'” Admittedly, there’s value is coming back to classics, be in literature, music or movies and television, but while being a safe option, it leaves little room for formulating one’s own opinion. No matter what people say, it’s hard to approach “The Brothers Karamazov” with a “clean slate” sort of mind, unless of course you haven’t heard about it before (which can’t be the case if your goal is to reach for the classics).
I say: don’t.
Go to the contemporariest of contemporary art galleries, watch latest movies before you get the chance to read their reviews, read latest novels. That way you can contest, evaluate on your own, be part of the community that establishes what is to become “a classic,” what is good and what isn’t. Or better yet, screw the community and formulate your own judgments.
Experiencing culture without being able to contest it kills half of the experience.
I went to music school as a kid. Ages 7 to 13 I studied classical violin and basics of music theory. I played in duos, trios, and orchestras. Even as a college student, despite my amateurish skills, I’d still find decent orchestras I would join and play many concerts with. All this, despite my slight disdain for classical music with its pompous ethos and pretentious audiences. I stopped playing after moving abroad about a decade ago, leaving my violin behind me, thinking the music performing chapter of my life was over.
Imagine my surprise when some years later I found myself jamming cave music with my friends, now a software engineer at the age of 34.
What if you are, like me, a classically trained musician who’d, too, like to indulge themselves in cave music? What’s your path? And how hard would it be?
As some of you might have heard, the legendary Munich label ECM finallyjumped on the streaming bandwagon. Yes, Manfred, I wholeheartedly agree that the beautiful music your label publishes demands to be listened on CDs and LPs, but these are harder and harder to take on a plane. With iPod Classic not sold anymore and iTunes morphing into Apple Music, music lovers will soon be left with only 3rd party solutions to keep actual music files on their smartphones. So thank you, herr Eicher, for allowing us to stream your whole catalog in 96 kbps Ogg Vorbis Spotify streams. (Did Keith Jarrett sign off on that btw? Nevermind, I know he didn’t. )
The New York Times recently published a list of their 21 “essential” ECM albums, and I agree with many of their picks. But at the end of the day they are just The New York Times, so what would they know? Here are my favorite ECM albums, which you should listen to at once. My list is of course highly subjective, but my taste is known to be notoriously better than NYT’s. Continue reading “ECM is finally streaming, and I’m here to tell you what’s good”
2016 was, as The Verge put it, “a good year for weird jazz.”1 I’d go even further: both 2015 and 2016 show that jazz is an evolving genre, and that it became more exciting than ever before. Influences of hip-hop and electronic music are becoming more visible, new artists pop-up in places you’d never expect (I’m looking at you, LA) and push music into new territories. So while I do appreciate The Verge’s recommendations (especially Shabaka and The Ancestors),2 I had to add some of my own. All of them represent that very shift in jazz’s esthetics, so if you’re looking for a review of Redman & Mehldau duo, you’ll be a bit disappointed. If you enjoy fresh sound, however, read on. Continue reading “Jazz Music in 2016”
I know Carrie Brownstein through “Portlandia,” a quirky sketch show she’s been doing with Fred Armisen for the last couple of years. I’m a huge fan of how accurately “Portlandia” pokes fun at alternative-culture so commonly associated with Pacific Northwest.1 What I learned later, only after doing some research on Fred and Carrie, is that they were both well-known before the show even started. Fred, to a perhaps lesser extent, through SNL, and Carrie, probably to a much greater extent, through Sleater-Kinney.
SNL is obviously not very popular in Europe, but the fact that during my teenage years I have never heard about Sleater-Kinney was always a bit surprising to me. Sure, alternative-scene rock bands from Seattle like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam made its way to (even Eastern) European radio stations, but the much larger phenomenon of what’s known as the “Pacific Northwest scene” remained rather unknown, or at least not commonly known. This way one could, as it turns out, live one’s life all through the crazy 90s and only discover Sleater-Kinney in 2012. Oh, and what a fantastic discovery that was. Continue reading ““Hunger makes me a modern girl””
In the spirit of 2015 summaries, I felt like sharing my recommendations for the best, in my view, jazz albums of yesteryear. The list is, of course, highly subjective and biased towards contemporary and European jazz.1 I also admit that the great majority of what I listen to comes from ACT Music label, since many of my favorite artists record for them, and thus it’s somewhat easier for me to explore their catalogue. Nevertheless, I tried to be broader in my picks, which was really easy this year thanks to some very surprising albums from relatively unknown artists. Below are my 6 favorites, with three in the “must listen” category additionally marked with a “💣” (how did internet function without emoji, eh?). Continue reading “Best Jazz Albums of 2015”
It is with great sadness that I read the news about Ornette Coleman’s death. Ornette was one of the first jazz musicians I ever heard of, an artist that inspired my love for jazz but also profoundly expanded my understanding of improvisation and free jazz.
There are a lot of great anecdotes about Ornette Coleman, like those about other musicians reportedly paying him not to play during his early days, and those about him studying music theory in an elevator while he had a part time job as an elevator operator.1 To me the greatest story about Ornette Coleman is his concert in Warsaw on July 18th, 2007, which was the first “big” jazz concert I ever went to. I remember I needed to get a leave from my part time call-center job explaining to my manager who Ornette Coleman is,2 and that I actually needed to save up the money two months in advance to be able to afford two tickets. And when the day came, an elderly man walked on stage of the Roma Music Theatre in Warsaw, and, together with his quartet, performed the most energetic jazz performance I have ever heard in my life, which was even more surprising given the fact that he was already 77 at the time and had difficulty walking.
It’s a great loss for the world of improvised music, but luckily Ornette Coleman’s legacy lives on strong, with so many records, concerts and young musicians inspired by his genius.
Ornette Coleman didn’t have any formal music training, and did not know, among other things, that he needs to transpose the saxophone parts before playing with a piano. ↩
I also remember being shocked that my American manager did not know who Ornette Coleman was.↩
“All of my colleagues — composers and arrangers — are seeing huge cuts in their earnings,” says Paul Chihara, a veteran composer who until recently headed UCLA’s film-music program. “In effect, we’re not getting royalties. It’s almost amusing some of the royalty checks I get.” One of the last checks he got was for $29. “And it bounced.”
Scott Timberg writes about how the recent rise of streaming services like Spotify, Rdio or Pandora affects royalties in the world of niche music. It’s sad, but not unexpected. However, at least in Europe a jazz/classical music enthusiast observes a growing number of websites that sell uncompressed audio files from small labels. There’s the German Highresaudio and the Norwegian Gubemusic, and both these services have a pretty big catalogue (at least compared to the American HDTracks).1 They are also both targeting the narrow group of listeners, and their catalogues contain mostly jazz and classical music. Which brings us to the second quote from the article:
Here’s a good place to start: Say you’re looking for a bedrock recording, the Beethoven Piano Concertos, with titan Maurizio Pollini on piano. Who is the “artist” for this one? Is it the Berlin Philharmonic, or Claudio Abbado, who conducts them? Is it Pollini? Or is it Beethoven himself? If you can see the entire record jacket, you can see who the recording includes. Otherwise, you could find yourself guessing.
My question is: why hasn’t anyone figured this out yet? It’s an at-least-decent business idea, and there’s a consumer group that can be easily targeted. Jazz fans complain about Spotify’s lack of content all the time. They also tend to be affluent (or pose as such, or are willing to spend more money on music), so you can charge them more. And they’re often suffering from audiophiliac illness.
Create an elite, expensive streaming service for jazz and classical lovers. Take our money!
Yes, I know high-res downloads make no sense. I don’t care. I only care that it’s lossless and that they have albums others don’t. ↩
I am very sad to read that Charlie Haden died last Friday.1 He was one of the first jazz musicians I ever heard about, when my dad bought the now legendary “Beyond the Missouri Sky” (Verve 1997) record, and I immediately fell in love with his great bass lines and compositions. Then I learned about Charlie Haden’s history with Ornette, and I also realized he played with Keith Jarrett’s quartet in the 70s. A versatile, curious musician who always enriched any jazz album he appeared on with his lyrical bass lines. His death is a terrible loss. Seems sadly prophetic that his latest duo album with Jarrett is titled “Last Dance” (ECM 2014).
Below are a couple of my favorite tracks by Charlie Haden or with him as a sideman. Listen and admire.
I first heard about Wayne Shorter when my dad bought the brilliant “1+1” (Verve 1997) album he recorded with Herbie Hancock. I listened to it and was blown away – the soprano saxophone in the hands of Wayne Shorter sounded like nothing I heard before. I had a “jazz band” in my music school at the time,1 and I told the guys “Look, Shorter and Hancock play without drums and bass, so we can do it too!”, but obviously we couldn’t, and we all quickly understood that we know nothing about improvisation.
I haven’t bought any Wayne Shorter records for a couple of years. Some time ago I bought two of his classic albums – “Juju” (Blue Note 1964) and “Speak No Evil” (Blue Note 1965) – and enjoyed them, but of course this was the old post- hard-bop sound of late 60s, significantly different to Shorter’s current music which I didn’t know. That is, until last year’s release of his new2 quartet’s “Without a Net” (Blue Note 2013). Continue reading “Wayne Shorter Quartet at USF Verftet (NattJazz 2014)”