Monday, July 16, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar pt. 0: electric authenticity

Continued as promised

When asked, in an article in The Guardian, if she gets frustrated by other singers’ approach to standards, Mina Agossi answers:

…Some people sing standards in the way that the greats did, with such conviction, love and authenticity that, really, it touches me. But if you ask me whether I learn something from that, or if it is something that opens a door, I would say no. It's beautiful, it's nice, but it doesn't touch me.
What happens when Agossi evokes, say, Billie Holiday (or any number of others) in her performance? What happens when I hear something of Holiday in Agossi—a singer/vocalist with much greater range than Holiday ever had? Not directly quoting Holiday, not mimicking Holiday (well, not exactly), and certainly not pretending to be Holiday. Nevertheless, what’s happening, and why is it electric?

visionsong impossibly (and fantastically) managed to get ‘postmodern’ and ‘authenticity’ to sit next to each other:
If there is such a thing as postmodern authenticity, then he's [Bill Frisell’s] it. He was embracing an eclectic mish-mash of Hendrix, folk Americana, thrash and bleep and blurp long before most of them were in vogue, and the times seem to have caught up with him, in a good way.
I recall the first time I became aware of ‘post-modern jazz guitar’ (or maybe that should be ‘‘post-modern’ ‘‘jazz’ guitar’’ or something) even though I wouldn’t have been able to call it as such at the time.
Bill Frisell’s sound I knew from some sporadic, and sometimes eccentric, appearances as sideman, most notably (to my ears at the time), as the quirky, independent-minded ‘other’ guitarist in Bass Desires (hey, anyone remember ‘Twister’?), but it’s his appearance on the self-titled Naked City debut recording (1989, Nonesuch) that marks my introduction to post-modern jazz guitar.

On some mundane, obvious level, Naked City was scatter-brained. Certainly critics at the time of its release, possibly because of a concern for material rather than practice, had difficulty hearing anything other than post-modern collage. On the other hand, in retrospect, it’s perhaps surprising that so little of the band had an overtly post-modern agenda: Fred Frith would return to that hybrid rock experimentalism; Joey Baron had no difficulty retaining his all-purpose bounce; Wayne Horvitz continued to walk the tight-rope act of downtown traditionalist; maybe even John Zorn’s taste for bricolage and sampling had more to do with the collision of Experimentalisms, African-American ‘noise’, and hardcore.

And then there’s Frisell.

Frisell’s interest in Americana, and, latterly, in cross-cultural (mis)understandings, displayed a concern for history that went beyond the temporal agnosticism of post-modernism.

Or did it?

Frisell’s deployment of those ’bop licks acknowledges history—of precedence—but it is not about authenticity, nor does it purport to be authentic. It ain’t authentic in either the sense colloquially used in the domain of historically informed performance (of which jazz neo-classicism might be a special branch), nor in the sense of an embodied authenticity as Simon Frith-ites might discuss in the context of popular music. This enrollment of jazz guitar history and practice is a strage and fascinating, perfectly crafted piece of… of what?
I’m not sure what I’m hearing when I spin that track (I’ll let you in on the exact track in the next part of this thread). Am I hearing a condensation of history (a collapsing of time), or a meaningless token (albeit free from the pretentions that dogs neo-classicism)? Is it a form of due-paying, or is it mocking the jazz traditions’ emphasis on cultural lineage? Or something else? or something in between? or a rapid-fire oscillation between states? I don’t know what I’m hearing, but the effects are dramatic (in that microcosmic moment) and electric.

To be continued…

an (unanswered) question

Does Frisell cultivate that shy, gawky, slightly goofy mid-western persona?
MLM and I used to joke that Frisell would meticulously practice his awkward delivery in preparation for introducing his band/pieces. Are questions of authenticity relevant to Frisell’s persona? Is it an act? Is persona (or identity) performance?

…and two questions from last time

What is, or what is constructed by the label, post-modern jazz?
Is, or do you find, post-modern jazz to be a positive development?


Mwanji Ezana said...

Is Jason Moran a post-modernist? Fred Kaplan seems to think so, in the way he "appropriates everything around him, including ready-made objects, and somehow makes it all his own." Or you could "just" call him the Jaki Byard of the hip hop generation (not that that really feels complete, but it's snappy). Perhaps people forget that Byard was Moran's deepest mentor.

the improvising guitarist said...

Hey Mwanji, thanks for reading.

Jason Moran’s work I know little about (although I feel I should put more effort into finding out). Kaplan’s article reminds me a little of what critics used to say (bemoan) about Django Bates’ playing. I think your question (“Is Jason Moran a post-modernist?”) deserves to be addressed in the body of a post….

Thanks for the comment.

S. tig