From: Nate Chinen
I was supposed to come up with the next link to this chain over the weekend, but snowfall and football turn out to be wicked procrastination-boosters. I do have some thoughts, though, beginning with this quotation:
“When you look at the history of jazz, everybody who made significant contributions to that music never really saw it as a kind of music. Anybody who can shed that preconception of what jazz is or is not, or should be or shouldn’t be, and can just approach it as human endeavor, I think will find something to resonate with here.” -- Vijay Iyer (via EPK )
The polls and picks are mostly in, and it looks like Iyer just might have had the consensus choice for best jazz album of 2009. Ben, you had his Historicity as your top dog, irrespective of genre (more on that in a sec). A casual perusal of the 50 JazzTimes critics’ ballots shows that only one voter, editor-in-chief Lee Mergner, had it quite so high -- but also that it appears on 12 total ballots, the same tally as Joe Lovano’s Folk Art, which came in just ahead at #1.
I’m no numbers-cruncher, so I won’t pursue that gauntlet further. But I’ll gladly pick up another one, the one Iyer throws down in his statement above. Throughout this roundtable so far, we’ve heralded artists who make their way without most of the old hang-ups, ducking the heavy drag of genre obligation.
Reflecting on that fact this weekend, I got to thinking about this first decade of the new century, and what it has meant for jazz, in some loose sense. Others have done this recently, including my man David Adler, who provides a kind of personal tour on his blog. Over at the Slate Music Club, my model for this email exchange, there was a subplot concerning the best handle for the 2000s, which has been known in some starchy circles as “the Aughts.” Carl Wilson kicked around a few ideas, settling on “the Singles” -- part nod to “Single Ladies,” part acknowledgment of the iTunes-abetted devaluation of the album. But since that trend doesn’t really apply to jazz, here’s another possible option: “the Oughts.” (Indulge me here for a minute, guys.)
Remember how this decade began? So much agita over definitions! On the one hand we had imposing cultural arbiters (right) telling us what jazz ought to be: blues-based, swinging, firmly rooted in the African-American idiom. On the other hand, there was the countervailing response, which spoke to a Balkanization of jazz, literally and figuratively (cf., the Knitting Factory). At that end of the spectrum, the thinking was that jazz ought to be open-ended and exploratory, not so serious all the time. (Maybe their version was the Naughts, or the Nots.) Of course this is a wildly reductive take on the “jazz wars,” itself a wildly reductive term.
The point is that we can now survey the Oughts in terms of a cycle of action and reaction. For much of the last decade, jazz was a pendular protectorate, swinging (or not) back and forth between entrenchments, toward some contested new center of truth. Look at Historicity -- or, for that matter, at Folk Art, which resides so comfortably in today’s modern mainstream only because that center has shifted. (Whether we can all admit it is another story.)
I’m not saying that Lovano is inventing a new syntax, or even that Folk Art is more “adventurous” somehow than, say, Congo Square. (We could play this game all day.) But I am indeed arguing that the “preconception of what jazz is or is not, or should be or shouldn’t be,” to borrow Iyer’s formulation, has buckled enough to allow for a wealth of new shoots coming up through the cracks. And there’s no zero-sum game anymore: you can dig Håkon Kornstad and Joe Lovano, the Bad Plus and James P. Johnson, Wynton and Dave.
If I had to designate a jazz artist of the decade, it would probably be pianist Jason Moran, who has gone out of his way, again and again, to deal with jazz tradition in an honest and personal way. (No accident that Moran is the present-day artist who closes Jazz, the new Giddins-DeVeaux book. Marsalis held down that spot in Jazz, the Ken Burns film and ultimate Oughts artifact.)
There’s one more thing to be said about Moran and Iyer -- and Iverson, whom we’ve also invoked, and Darcy James Argue, whom I can’t believe we haven’t. Each of these musicians has taken it upon himself to articulate his own ideas: about his music, about his influences, and about much more besides. Hank, you shouted out Iverson’s interviews at Do The Math; I’m guessing you’ve already seen his latest bit of jazz criticism too? And has everybody read Iyer on Monk (and physics!), Steve Lehman on spectral music, and Argue, just today, on Bob Brookmeyer? Hard to keep up with it all, right? And just think, we haven’t even gotten to Wynton’s Facebook notes. Has there ever been more transparency, more dialogue, more open-source debate, in all of jazz history?
I’ll end with a photo: the Vijay Iyer Trio backstage at Newport this summer, with drummer Billy Hart and WBGO producer-host Josh Jackson. What’s good about jazz in 2009? You’re looking at it. One facet of it, anyway.
That’s it for my hand in the roundtable, fellas. I’ll pass the aforementioned gauntlet your way, keeping in mind that the holidays loom. Farewell to the Oughts and all that; Hello to whatever’s rounding that corner!