Wednesday, July 18, 2007

post-modern jazz guitar pt. 0a: comments and responses

A little while ago, PB commented that

…one could argue that all ‘jazz’ is post-modern, using found materials, drawing from the street as much as the academy, appropriating influence wildly… perhaps even improvisation itself is a thoroughly post-modern conception.
But, if anything can be thrown under that label, is it at all useful?
Mwanji Ezana asks if Jason Moran a post-modernist? I’m tempted to paraphrase Mwanji’s question as, is anyone a post-modernist? Or, in a form that might be easier to answer, is labeling anyone a ‘post-modernist’ useful / illuminating / fun / playful? My answer is a tentative no, it isn’t. On the other hand, if we’re interested in the condition rather than a post-modern aesthetic (whatever that might be), maybe we would usefully look for the post-modern in our listening / witnessing.
So, another question: does, or do the performances of, Agossi, Frisell or Moran elicit a post-modern reception?

Pat Donaher at visionsong expresses reservations and skepticism on the grounds that the post-modern tends towards valuelessness:
…Post-modernism… rests on the idea that no art has true intrinsic value…. And if you're ironic… you don't have to be honest….
…It's the guest at the party that oozes coolness, impresses the herd, says witty but empty things, and ultimately contributes nothing to the event. If that is where art is, or is headed, it's something I want no part of, and want to show up as a clothesless emporer.
And to paraphrase visionsong’s question (which relates to PB’s observation, and is similar to Mwanji’s question), is Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn post-modern? Well, maybe not, but, with a little work, we could hear it as such.
I am sympathetic to Pat’s desire for value in art, but I don’t agree that a post-modern reading necessarily lends itself to a valuelessness, its just you have to work much harder for it—you certainly cannot take it for granted, nor can you ever assume that its shared by others. I agree that post-modernism (like its cousin post-structuralism) offers a potential for a lazy libertarian relativism, but with a little care, I think it can also be culturally, politically liberating.

More to come…


peter breslin said...

hey- Wish I knew Naked City (referring to your post above); I'll track it down and give it a whirl. I missed so much during that period, catching other things.

As for the usefulness of the term post-modern, that's a good question. Taxonomy is endlessly fascinating (sometimes aggravating) for me in this lists, genre-making/grouping/classifying invites simultaneous certainty and confusion. "periods" in art always alow exceptions, sometimes more than adherents, oddly.

Anyway, being post-modern and knowing one is post-modern are two distinctly different contexts for making music. Chicago Beau's comment on my blog on a recent post on Archie Shepp's '69/'70 Paris stuff reminded me that "being there" and listening are two different activities. Maybe we are also able to be post-modern listeners, that is, that there's a distinct kind of listening that involves post-modern ears. (I guess this kicks in for me strongest whe I'm hearing a distinct and quite dated style, such as Mahavishnu Orchestra or Jelly Roll Morton....)


the improvising guitarist said...

PB, do try and give Naked City a spin, it is an interesting, and perhaps equally problematic, piece.
I think you’re right that “being post-modern and knowing one is post-modern” are distinct. I’m trying to argue a parallel point that attempting to be post-modern and being perceived as post-modern are also distinct (the “distinct kind of listening that involves post-modern ears”)

As always, thanks for the comment.


pat said...


Thanks for your critique- it's a fair one. I think (and I've tried to be up front about this, perhaps) some of my reservations about "pomo", especially in music, is due to the disciples who have spit its gospel in my general direction. The shallowness of their thinking, and the arrogance they put it across with, has galled me. But that's not entirely fair to the idea. Certainly putting a label on something neither guarantees it quality nor its lack of.

BTW, Ms. Agossi hits Boston in October- will try to hear her. It's pricey though, and in a room (Scullers) that rarely does artists any favors.

the improvising guitarist said...

Hey pat, thanks for your comment. I’m actually quite sympathetic to your position. My attitude used to be that post-modernism was an ideological (and cultural) apology for libertarian capitalism—an anything goes ‘valuelessness’. (Part of me still believes that, or at least that that is a hazard.)
But alternatives seemed to require an equally unpleasant political purity. And when we allowed for hybridity and heterogeneity, the results looked suspiciously like a branch of post-modernism. It was, ironically, a conversation with an old-style socialist musician (can I say that kinda thing nowadays?) that actually convinced me that post-modernism wasn’t all bad (but more about that in another post…).

If you do catch Agossi, let us know how you found it—good, bad, indifferent. Oh, one more thing: although I sketch her out in post-modern colors, there’s a lot more to her (and many more ways to listen) than that… but I didn’t need to tell you that ;-)

Thanks for reading.

S, tig