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Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 2: Modernism to…

Essential Jazz Records, Vol. 2: Modernism to Postmodernism

by Max Harrison

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I also reviewed Volume One of the Essential Jazz Recordings for Amazon. The first volume impressed me for the breadth and fair-mindedness apparent in the 250 selections listed, but what really excited me was the passion and insightfulness of the individual reviews.

The authors faced an altogether more daunting task in selecting and reviewing the 250 discs included in volume two. The modernist and "postmodernist" (I don't really think there's a difference, but . . .) movements in jazz spawned a plethora of stylistic innovations, many of which demand some sort of representation here. And there are just many, many more jazz recording from the latter half of the century than there were in the first half.

So, where the selections and review essays in the first volume generally reflect the passion the authors felt for the music on the discs, the selections and reviews for the second volume generally seem to reflect a set of arbitrary standards the authors established to deal with the enormous amount of material potentially under consideration.

So, a lot of the inclusions seem to be here not because anyone thinks they are truly exciting recordings, but because they are though to best represent a particular stylist or stylistic movement or structural change in how jazz could be approached.

The thing I like most about the reviews in the first volume is the way it sent me back to the recordings it treats and gave me fresh ears to listen to them with. The thing I remember about the reviews in the second volume is Simon Nicholson's seeming obsession with song structure (A,B,B',A',C,A,A).

I am put in mind of William Youngren's review of Gunther Schuller's fine book Early Jazz. At the end of the day these sorts of books always come down to the subjective response of the author or authors to the experience of the music. Technicalia or any other stage props of purported fairness and objectivity tend to start getting in the way of that response pretty quickly if not used with care.

Schuller's work generally is a model for balancing the musical technicalia, fine writing and good ears. While the second volume of The Essential Jazz Recordings is a quite useful book, it falls far short of the pleasures of the first volume, mostly because it fails to strike a good balance between these elements. ( )
1 vote ehines | Sep 30, 2009 |
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