From: Joe Tangari
I’m enjoying the conversation a lot so far. The spirit in here is infectious. Thanks for inviting me, Nate, and I’m honored to be in on the exchange with such a fine group of writers and thinkers.
I want to start by picking up the thread of jazz and genre, and I think Esperanza Spalding is a great lens through which to do it.
The first time I ever heard Esperanza Spalding, it was on an album called Happy You Near, by a band called Noise for Pretend, of which she was the bassist and primary vocalist. It was released on the Hush label, which for years paired its logo with a quick tag line that simply said “anti-rock.” This was 2002 (The Grammy Awards often stretch the definition of “New Artist” to the breaking point), and I wrote about the record for Pitchfork.
There are plenty of hyphenates you could throw at that album (I certainly did), but at its heart, it’s an indie pop album. When Spalding talks about where she comes from as a musician, she’s filtering her response through a career that started with her playing in Portland’s indie rock scene.
I don’t think it’s possible to have a “pure” lineage no matter what kind of music you’re playing — even Nicholas Payton admits he’s playing “post-modern New Orleans.” If there’s a more ambiguous term than post-modern, let me know. Human beings are synthesizers — we blur together our DNA and the experiences of our lives into a personality, or a soul, if you prefer. It’s tough not to get a little Hollywood in your New Orleans growing up in such a media-saturated world.
I tend to side with Aaron in thinking that, on the creative side, jazz is just fine, and perhaps in better shape now than it has been in a long time. He reeled off a long list of albums he loved this year, and I don’t disagree with any of it.
Aaron also mentioned that jazz’s siege mentality doesn’t seep into Chicago as much as it does New York. Part of the reason for this may simply be that Chicago, of all cities, is probably the one where the walled garden of genre has been most thoroughly obliterated. Since the 1990s, it’s been routine for guys like Fred Lonberg-Holm and Rob Mazurek to show up on records by bands that are putatively rock artists (or post-rock, if you like). Jason Adasiewicz is a fantastic jazz vibist. He was also a member of the indie rock/loop folk group Pinetop Seven for years.
There’s a to-and-fro in that city’s music scene that really does create the “open field” effect that Nate mentioned in his introductory post. And I think the field is only going to open more and more, and that will happen everywhere as time goes on.
As an example, some of what is, to me, the most exciting jazz going today is being made by Indian and Pakistani-American musicians, and in particular by Vijay Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa. They are making music with dual (at the very least) ancestries, and it’s opened up a whole new avenue for innovation. Indian music and jazz have been meeting on record for a long time — Joe Harriott & John Mayer’s 1966 Indo-Jazz Fusions LP comes to mind — but this new music is less an on-the-surface meeting and more a true combination of distinct traditions.
Tirtha, Iyer’s album with Indian-born guitarist Prasanna and tabla player Nitin Mitta, is one of the most harmonically interesting records I heard this year for the way it combines Western and Carnatic harmony. And I’m not sure what you’d call Mahanthappa’s “Parakram #2,” from his recent album Samdhi. I would never say it’s not jazz, but Mahanthappa is credited with alto sax and laptop on the album, and that song in particular does some crazy things with manipulating the group performance.
We’ve come a long way since people got angry at Lennie Tristano for overdubbing, but I can see how some people who are holding on tight to a narrow definition of what they feel jazz should be could be thrown for a loop by that. Seems like a sad world to live in, though. The expansion of that definition is what gave us the thrilling Live at the South Bank, the record Steve Reid and Mats Gustafsson made with British electronic artist Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) just before Reid’s death. I turned in a few top tens this year, and that album was in all of them.
Angelika makes a good point about how multi-faceted the conversation has become — these debates are never settled. They don’t lead us to some end point in the conversation where things are wrapped up. They fan the flames of ideas for the next phase of conversation. I think the diversification of the music reflects the diversification of the conversation — there are more voices in both rooms, and there’s still room for more.
So does jazz need a savior? I don’t think so. Besides, people waiting for saviors often end up waiting a very long time.