Monday, August 20, 2012

Judging The Judges

By Claudio Botelho
The August issue of Down Beat magazine included the results of the critics’ votations of the best of the year. A great unanimity was obtained by Vijay Iler’s “Accelerando”: it was, by far, the best album of the season. 110 votes, against 69 received by Sonny Rollins’ “Road Show, Vol.2”, the second most voted! So, we have here an excess of 60 % over the second place. It’s a very comfortable advantage, meaning that, if taken into consideration the eclectism of the suffragists (as they’re from all around the globe), “Accelerando” wasn’t just the best outing of the period, but a kind of work which pleased the most different tastes: a truly “universal” product! Wow!
Well, “Accelerando”was a no-brainer for me: very good interplay, uninspired compositions (personal taste is personal taste…), to a great extent, an annoying repetition of drum beats (very common with certain rhythms when the drummers just don’t know what to do) and a sense of urgency pervading the whole work. The music is instigating, indeed, the form very personal, different from anything else. Surely Iyer has already carved an original path for himself, enough to distinguish his playing from the gigantic plethora of pianists around. You can undoubtly recognize him from the early beginning of any of his renderings.
For me, his “raw playing” is too much visceral, too urbane, allowing little or no space at all for dreaming. It’s like a crowded big city downtown, at six P.M. In this sense, It’s too political for my tastes…
But, the numbers from Downbeat critics are too expressive and disagreements like mine must be taken with a giant grain of salt. Let’s wait to see what the readers of that magazine have to say. We must not forget that critics are fed up with mainstream works and, when something different arrives, hyperboles sometimes come along from them. I’m old enough to have seen many novelties to be no more than the fruits of the season…
From now on, I’ll be waiting for the endurance of works like this and will be witnessing if it really gets engraved in the jazz records. Besides, let’s see what the DB readers have to say about it…
Meanwhile, let me suggest some alternative plain good music for you. Their only merit is to please the senses… Here they go:






The first, the second, the third and the last one are not the kind of albums to be spotted on DB. They’re from Europe and, in addiction to an undisputable good taste and musical finesse, they don’t usually play havoc with blowing instruments: these never overbear the game, as happens so much with music from other places of this planet. Things are always even. That’s a special skill of them.
Look out for the number one cited above: The inspiration was the great pianist Enrico Pieranunzi!
Pieranunzi has been doing exceptional music for a long, long time and, finally, someone remembered of this. His musical themes and those associated with him, as can be seen in Somsen’s work, speak by themselves…
Again, there’s nothing fancy here, just plain good old music which will never be out of fashion!
(I should add that these albums have come to me from dear friends of Fortaleza-CE who have this bad habit of sharing with us from Brasília things that have enthralled them. Thank you very much guys!)
In DB survey, Greg Porter’s “Be Good“was granted the fourth most voted.
OK, jazz, as a kind of music, has been defying many, as these simply don’t know what exactly it is. For me, it’s no more than something new created inside a theme, something never written by its author. Sometimes, it is previously written, i.e. entirely recomposed before the actual performance. Other times it’s instant music, created during the performance. In general, aside from the so called “free jazz”, the presentations mix these two forms.
Still, one can work as used to do Billie Holliday, in her very, very peculiar way of singing: through tiny modulations, she built her super personal style. The songs were thoroughly rearranged in a way many times missed by the common listener. The little arrangements ran from the first chord to the last one.
Another can act like Sinatra or Bennett who, hiring arrangers to make-up the songs they’d perform, acted just like any other musician who obliged himself to follow the charts they were given. The final result may be taken as jazz, but, is this performer a jazzist? As much as I like “The Voice”, I have my doubts…
Would you say these icons were made of the same piece of cloth as Kurt Elling, Joe Williams, Mel Tormé, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin or the maven Mark Murphy? You judge it…
This time, when I listened to Porter’s album, I had no idea I was listening to a jazz singer, but, to my astonishment, he’s got a fourth place from DB critics. A fourth place! So, only three albums outperformed “Be Good”! Wow, again!
I’ve listened to this album some months ago and, to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, its jazz escaped completely from my perception: maybe he’s a new Billie Holliday who’d done some nano-arrangements which I couldn’t detect. As such, disguised as one more pop music out of so many extant, he deceived me into thinking I’ve bought the wrong album!
I’m not here talking about the musical value of Porter’s effort; “Be Good” just does not seem to be a jazz album for me. I haven’t listened to any other of his previous outings and, so, could not say much about his musical prowess. It just seems to me very weird that so many critics put his last album ahead of so many genuinely jazz productions.
Would the critics place him side by side with the above cited?
I wonder I Knew…

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