April 21, 2009

BUT WHO GETS THE CHANNEL?:

Another Documentary, Another Riff on the History and Mystery of Jazz (BEN RATLIFF, 4/20/09, NY Times)

“Icons Among Us,” a four-part series beginning Monday on the Documentary Channel, serves as a retort to Ken Burns’s 2001 television documentary “Jazz.” [...]

The first onscreen opinion comes from the trumpeter Nicholas Payton. “You have to let go of everything you’ve seen and heard to experience the truth,” he says. “A lie is anything that has nothing to do with now. Truth is now.”

He’s talking about improvising, but he’s also supplying this undogmatic film — the first two episodes of it, anyway — with a thesis. If you want to understand jazz, it seems to suggest, start with the present, or maybe the last 15 years, and then go backward. Listen to the old masters, but only up to a point. Never lose track of yourself, your time, your world; otherwise you’ll be an anxious blob, mainlining Blue Note records from 1959 and making irrelevant music. [...]

In Episode 2 Ravi Coltrane breaks the pattern. During a pause in a recording session he explains the method of his latest work. “I’ve been improvising a lot of compositions lately, then using those parts and organizing those elements in a way that’s closer to traditional styles of writing,” he says. “What I’m left with is something that I wouldn’t have naturally written down.”

I bet he didn’t know how fresh he sounded. After more than an hour of theoretical, a minute of practical sounds brilliant. It also helps you understand, when you subsequently hear Mr. Coltrane’s music, the immediate challenges and concerns and ambitions of that music.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2009 4:01 PM
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