Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 66: Keith Jarrett "The Survivors Suite" & Fred Hersch "Songs Without Words"

I'm getting a late start today. I don't really have a reason for that, we had all of three trick or treaters last night, no parties. Just, late start. That's it. Anyway, on with the show...

Keith Jarrett
The Survivors Suite

Well, Keith Jarrett is back in the Albatross and if you read the previous Keith Jarrett post it's not a surprise that this CD was unopened. Like the other day's Tim Berne CD, this is only two long tracks, though neither reaching even thirty minutes much less Berne's fifty-plus minute single track.

This one isn't a solo piano piece the same way the other one was, in fact it took almost nine minutes for Jarrett to even get on the piano after dabbling with the bass recorder, celeste, soprano saxophone, and osi drums. Here he is joined by Dewey Redman on sax and percussion, Charlie Haden on bass, and Paul Motian on drums.

While I have to admit this is prototype pretentious music--not much air, really between the first eight minutes of the first track and the World Flutes 1 CD from early in the project, I actually am growing to really kind of dig this once they got underway. Truthfully, though, I tend to like pretentious music if a little self consciously. Obviously, with almost thirty minute long tracks, they come and go in waves.

The liner notes contain a single sentence:
"And those that create out of the holocaust of their own inheritance anything more than a convenient self-made tomb shall be known as 'Survivors'."
It's in quotations, but it doesn't attribute who the quote belongs to, so presumably Jarrett? To Google! Yep. And people quote it a lot when they write essays about abuse, apparently. I'm not even sure I understand it, to be honest. Like, if you don't take the horrible things from your situation and end up in a ball in the corner you're a survivor? I think people make it out to be an inspiration but it seems to set a lower bar. I'm probably missing something but I don't feel like reading any of the essays that use this quote right now.

Not that the track names shed any light on anything. They are "Beginning" and "Conclusion." No doubt this would have been one uninterupted suite had it been recorded in the time of CDs (or digital music) instead of LPs where he had to split it up into two sides.

There's a release that missed the boat at some point. I seem to remember (and I may have this wrong, I don't have the CD readily at hand for reasons I've exhaustively gone into) Eric Dolphy's Free Jazz fading out on the first track and fading in on the second to accommodate the two sides of the album. Where's the remaster where someone has stitched those two tracks together so we can hear them as one uninterrupted performance? If course this recording there is a clear distinction between the two tracks in tone, tempo, and approach.

I didn't hear it on the last album so I forgot about Jarrett's tendency to sing along with his solos. Put here it is, I can hear it just fine.

We've reached the free jazz section of our program. People who have been politely sitting quietly while this CD played may now get up and question the sanity of the person who put the disc on and insist it be changed, or worse, control of the music completely surrendered. I hate when that happens because to me this is when the music starts to get good. But it's definitely for a select crowd. I always want to go, "Look, I sit through crappy music I hate every day, can't you just stomach this one moment where there is some music that might be a little beyond you at the moment?" Nope, go listen to your weirdo music alone, freak.

Of course I'm getting this self-righteous to a Keith Jarrett recording, who last time I just whined about for an hour.

Fred Hersch
Songs Without Words

Another sampler of a larger box set, which I don't know that we actually carried or not. And another artist that I don't really know that much about. So far it's just solo piano, but there's no telling where it's going to go from there. I've been burned before guessing that a CD would go one way and have it take off in an entirely different direction. Especially one that is an anthology of a larger collection. I can't tell from the only note (that you can see right there) if it's a set of new recordings or if it is a collection of earlier recordings. But certainly each disc has its own set of themes.

So there's this story, or not so much story, but thing that happened, it was big on Stumble for a little bit, about a violinist going to a subway in New York and performing. Not many people stopped or paid attention to him. What he played was one of the most difficult violin pieces available, and the person who played it was Joshua Bell who had just played at a reputable hall for $150 a seat (or some such price). That story in part helped motivate a mostly stillborn project I hope to bring out soon (but no one is reading this, so I have to figure out this a little better so that people actually see it), but it also creates a weird little loop for me here.

I've gone on (and on) about piano pounders, the common room performers pumping their sustain pedal like they were inflating the piano. But then there is Hersch, who is playing standards and some of his own stuff, but it is more or less 'straight jazz.' The kind of 'straight jazz' that a piano player might play in a bar or casino lobby where a slightly drunk record store clerk/buyer might be egged on by head buyer turned label rep to stumble up and request Girl From Ipanema. Good times.

So it's easy to listen to solo piano performing 'straight jazz' and thing hotel lobby, or casino bar, or Nordstroms floor. But I've known a piano player who played on the Nordstroms floor and he was remarkable. It's conceivable that Hersch spent his time playing in hotel lobbies and casino bars.

Thing is, I do this a lot. I keep associating the music I'm listening to in terms of where I would be likely to hear it. And if I'm honest, it's at least partially derogatory. But, clearly, that's not entirely fair. It could easily be an undiscovered Hersch. A Joshua Bell conducting a social experiment. In fact Bell's experiment was about this, that the quality under which we rate music is largely, and embarrassingly, contextual. This is good piano because it's on a CD. Bar piano is not as good because it's just a guy at a bar. Perhaps, if I get sauced enough I'll put bread in their jar and ask what they're doing there, but I don't know that I'll mean it.

So sure, this is good. It's on a CD. He was allowed to record a three CD set no less. Nonsuch records endorses him and I'm given the CD and I listen to it and presumably I agree because it was on a CD and Nonsuch is release three at a time and it will be good. It is better than what you might hear at the bar or the casino or the hotel or Nordstroms because this is on a CD and Nonsuch and my record store said it was good. And it is good. I don't mean to imply that it isn't.

But I think that the notion of context, of having to do two of these every day and realizing what kind of short hand that I begin to use to digest the music, to put it in its place so I can find something to say about it.

Drums and a bass show up for Easy to Love before we get one of three variations of the title track. This one is labeled Aria. We have waltz and ballads to look forward to.

We also get some horns mixed in before we go to the mellow 'ballad' version of the title track to wrap up the collection. A rather standard way to put together a compilation, a little bit of solo, some piano trio, a combo, and the defining track in few forms.

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