Finding jazz again

I had a very powerful experience recently. I found my love of jazz again. Here’s the recording that did it: Simon Phillips & Protocol + Ndugu Chancler + Billy Ward: Biplane to Bermuda.

My teens and twenties were an exciting time to be a jazz fan. I fell in love with the first wave of jazz fusion experiments in the 1970s by groups like Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Billy Cobham.

My relationship to older forms of the genre had been ambiguous. I generally liked jazz from before it began to strive for artsiness – primitive forms like Dixieland and swing and the brass-centric music of Preservation Hall. On the other hand, I often found the “art” jazz of the 50s and 60s excessively involuted and unlistenable.

It seemed to me like the fusionists of the ’70s, borrowing from rock and pop-funk and world music, had rediscovered the vigor of early jazz with a wider range of rhythms, textures, tone colors – and a willingness to take chances, push boundaries.

And dear Goddess I loved the results – albums like Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior, Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Billy Cobham’s Spectrum, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, Stanley Clarke’s School Days. Forty years later I still cherish those recordings.

But then in the late ’80s something shifted. The harbinger, though I didn’t know it at the time, was Weather Report’s breakup in ’86. Somehow the magic went away. It seemed to me that jazz lost its sense of adventure. What I could hear out there mostly seemed to retreat into bland elevator music and overly-reverent recreations of historical styles.

The best I could find were the likes of Pat Metheny and Spirogyra – pleasant enough listening, but…wan, almost bloodless. Safe. Too safe. And let us draw a kindly veil over the terrifying blandness of most of the rest of “smooth jazz”.

So I moved sideways into jazz-influenced prog-metal, artists like Derek Sherinian and Planet X and Liquid Tension Experiment. And that was good too; wonderful music, intricate fire.

But I missed jazz as a living genre – I missed polyrhythms and wailing saxes and the uses of silence and things that derivatives of rock could not quite bring themselves to do. Occasionally Pandora would throw up a track that partly brought back the magic, like Bill Frisell’s White Fang or various stuff by Niacin. But these were few and far between.

And then Pandora’s algorithms figured out that I might like Simon Phillips and Protocol. And I did. Took me a while to notice that a lot of the good newer tracks it was rotating in were by the same outfit. I think the track that forced me to sit up and take notice was Manganese.

Then I found the live Biplane to Bermuda, and I listened, and – I mean this – I nearly cried. This was what I’d been missing for a very long time. Not just the style and virtuosity of music – Andy Timmon’s astonishing understated doubling on guitar with Everette Harp’s sax, Phillips’s and Chancler’s polyrhythms – but the sense that this was not a museum piece. These were players still asking questions, still pushing, still taking chances.

This is jazz I can feel passionate about again, jazz that rewards repeated listens and invites me into subtle depths of phrasing, rhythm, and expression.

Damn it’s good to have that back. I don’t think I knew how much I missed it, before.

86 thoughts on “Finding jazz again

  1. @esr: I often found the “art” jazz of the 50s and 60s excessively involuted and unlistenable.

    Such as?

    Miles Davis? Ornette Coleman? Charles Mingus? Thelonious Monk? Mose Allison? Sun Ra?

    If I wanted to make a strained analogy, I’d guess that what you liked in earlier jazz was the equivalent of Impressionism in painting, and what you didn’t like in later jazz was the equivalent of Cubism, as painters looked for the next steps and began a process of deconstruction aimed at expressing underlying forms.

    Personally, I always liked the highly cerebral stuff, but mileage varies.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >Such as?

      I remember when I was very young being actually saddened at hearing John Coltrane praised as the hottest innovator in jazz and then finding him boring and irritating. Especially because I could tell that he was exerting a lot of skill and it was still boring. And the less said about his imitators the better.

      Understand, I was already listening to pretty serious classical music by that time – my dad was a hi-fi pioneer who built his own stereos back when that was a thing and my family had a large record library well before that was at all common. I’d had a fair amount of exposure to blues, folk, show tunes, and opera as well. (I actually liked opera.)

      So it’s not that my ear was unsophisticated or that I was unwilling to work at understanding something. Genres like bop and third stream just didn’t do it for me. Or I’d listen to stuff like Duke Ellington and think “Nice, technically accomplished…” and then after the first two hours it would never really surprise me again.

      It’s interesting that you mention Davis, because I remember listening to Bitches’ Brew and thinking “What a load of sloppy playing and self-indulgent crap. And yet…and yet…there’s something there, a few moments that are reaching for something interesting.”

      >Personally, I always liked the highly cerebral stuff, but mileage varies.

      I like music with a lot of complexity and nuance too, but exercises in pure cerebration leave me cold. I have the same reaction to a lot of shred guitarists today that I did to art jazz – OK, your technique is amazing, but what is your referent outside the technique itself?

  2. In the OP, you wrote “Stannley” (fifth paragraph) and “polyrhthyms” (twice: ninth and eleventh paragraphs).

    I do want to actually discuss some of the music you mention, but later. Haven’t dined yet. >_<

  3. @DMcCunney –

    > > Personally, I always liked the highly cerebral stuff, but mileage varies.

    > [esr] I like music with a lot of complexity and nuance too, but exercises in pure cerebration leave me cold. I have the same reaction to a lot of shred guitarists today that I did to art jazz – OK, your technique is amazing, but what is your referent outside the technique itself?

    I didn’t know if you had seen this 2004 essay by Our Gracious Host: Deadly Genius and the Back-To-Zero Problem.

  4. @esr: I remember when I was very young being actually saddened at hearing John Coltrane praised as the hottest innovator in jazz and then finding him boring and irritating. Especially because I could tell that he was exerting a lot of skill and it was still boring.

    You likely won’t be fond of a lot on the Impulse records catalog. (Impulse has been called “The House that Trane Built”, for fairly good reason.)

    I recall listening to a couple of older black guys talking about jazz, and one saying “Now Trane, he get so far out, he forget to come back! Which is probably apt. One thing he was looking at before his untimely death was expanding his format a bit, like adding another horn player and perhaps working in a big band format. His commentary in an interview with Ralph Gleason was that he was accustomed to playing for 20 or 30 minutes, but was that really what the song needed? Could what he had to say perhaps be expressed in 10 minutes, with another horn player to fill in the blanks and go places he hadn’t? And he listened to and was willing to draw from classical music, but concluded that he likely didn’t need to as jazz was highly developed to provide areas to explore. I didn’t find him boring. The worst comment I could make was that he was often reaching for something but hadn’t found it yet.

    I grew up with classical music (my mom’s preference) and big band swing (courtesy of my dad, who played sax.) I started venturing beyond that in the mid-60’s when the first wave of the “British Invasion”, in the form of folks like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were transforming pop from the 45 RPM single, written by commercial songwriters, recorded in a studio with pro studio musicians, and sung by a pop star, the the 11″ vinyl LP, written and performed by a band. This was also the period when FM radio was developing, based on the ability to broadcast in stereo which AM didn’t get till rather later.

    The Stones were blues and R&B fans, who back when were just looking for three steady gigs a week in the London area to make a living playing blues and R&B. They didn’t start writing their own stuff till producer Mickie Most locked Mick and Keith in the loo in the studio where they were recording, and wouldn’t let them out till they’d written a song of their own. The Beatles just had the gift of melody.

    As other bands appeared, they drew for diverse sources of inspiration, and I started investigating what they drew from. My record collection added Blues, Bluegrass, Country, Folk, Jazz, R&B, Rockabilly, Soul, Surf music, Swing, World music…I still own about 1,200 vinyl LPs. About the only things I don’t listen to are hip-hop and opera (and I simply never developed a taste for the latter, but recognize when it’s good. I adore symphonic music and chamber music.)

    I never thought you had untutored ears, and “It doesn’t grab me” is perfectly valid. But I’m always curious about why things don’t grab people. What does grab them? Why? What’s missing in what doesn’t? Being able to articulate that is what interests me, and is something I muse about myself when I’m not grabbed by something. Often, I simply need a mental hook on which to hang my interest and give me a way to approach whatever it is. (True for any of the arts, really.)

    I do like the purely cerebral stuff better than you do, but I tend to be fairly cerebral, so no surprise.

    It’s interesting that you mention Davis, because I remember listening to Bitches’ Brew and thinking “What a load of sloppy playing and self-indulgent crap. And yet…and yet…there’s something there, a few moments that are reaching for something interesting.”
    I saw Miles live, touring in support of Bitches Brew, and thought my brain might melt and run out of my ears. But I probably prefer Kind of Blue and In a Silent Way overall. I suspect seeing a lot of this stuff performed live would make a huge difference.

    And if you haven’t seen it, check out https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/sets/72157624588645784/

    Photographer, filmmaker, writer and radio personality William Gottlieb was highly active in jazz in the late 40’s/early 50s, and contributed his photo archive of jazz portraits to the Library of Congress, who put it up on Flickr. At that time, 52nd Street was the center of jazz in NYC, and you could walk down it and hear Charley Parker and Miles Davis in one club, Louis Armstrong in another, Gene Krupa in a third…if I could travel back in time, 52nd Street from about 1949 through 1953 might be a destination.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >But I’m always curious about why things don’t grab people. What does grab them? Why? What’s missing in what doesn’t?

      I don’t have a full answer to that, just some fragments.

      I think part of it is that I like music, no matter how cerebral, to have drive and rhythms – something getting to my limbic system at the same time as my cerebrum. I’m easily grabbed by polyrhythms and artful off-time playing. One of the attractions of Protocol is that Phillips likes to play in signatures like 7/4 or 33/8 and I love that.

  5. DMcCunney:

    [The Rolling Stones] didn’t start writing their own stuff till producer Mickie Most locked Mick and Keith in the loo in the studio where they were recording, and wouldn’t let them out till they’d written a song of their own.

    Mickie Most? Wasn’t it Andrew Loog Oldham?

  6. @John B. Bell: I didn’t know if you had seen this 2004 essay by Our Gracious Host: Deadly Genius and the Back-To-Zero Problem.

    I hadn’t, and just did. He has a point, but I think the issues run a bit deeper. The commentary about classical music misses the fact that serious classical composers mostly went into writing film scores, because that’s where the money was. The problem for any artist is how they get paid for it.

    While I love Joyce, “literary” novels have always been a small part of literature. They aren’t what sells, and the stuff that does sell allows publishers to publish literary works as matters of pride and being able to say they have.

    And I think the commentary on Brancusi somewhat overstates the impact on sculpture. I adore his work, and the work of folks like Calder, but representational sculpture never really went away. Being a sculptor has always been a hazardous profession, because again, how do you get paid for it? I know one popular illustrator who also sculpts, but makes his living painting for reproduction because he can’t do it sculpting.

    In any of the arts, you get moments of “punctuated equilibrium”, where things get broken into pieces and reassembled, and that’s the sort of thing Eric was talking about. I don’t see it as a bad thing, but it does provide challenges for artists working in the arts where that happens.
    ______
    Dennis

  7. @Jorge Duran: Mickie Most? Wasn’t it Andrew Loog Oldham?

    I recalled it being Most, but you may be right. Have to Look Stuff Up.
    ______
    Dennis

  8. @esr: I think part of it is that I like music, no matter how cerebral, to have drive and rhythms – something getting to my limbic system at the same time as my cerebrum.

    Another factor that may enter in here is our sensorium. We all perceive the world through our senses, but one will predominate. For instance, mine is vision. I think visually. I see pictures in my head. Books will fail for me on structural grounds – the pieces don’t fit together. “You can’t get there from here!” My SO has poor vision, and can’t see beyond about 2 feet from her nose without her glasses. Her primary sense if hearing, which affects how she will react to things. (When she asks a technical question, my reflex is to grab a pencil and paper and draw a diagram, but that will convey nothing to her and I must find a different metaphor to express the concept.) A guy I corresponded with a long time back said his primary sense was touch. He felt holes in arguments.

    What do you think your primary sense is? Part of what makes me like purely cerebral stuff is that it can paint pictures in my head, and doesn’t require the sort of drive you mention to hook me. I can get lost in it without needing a beat.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >What do you think your primary sense is?

      I think I’m a vision-centered person as well.

      But I have a very, very discriminating ear (the kind you find in pro studio engineers and really serious audiophiles) that among other things effortlessly separates parts in multilayered instrumentation. When I was in bands I was the guy who could always hear when somebody was a quarter-tone off tune. When I remember music I remember it with details others often barely notice, like pick-scrape noises in the guitar solos.

      This has to be driving my taste in music somehow.

  9. @JDB:
    > I didn’t know if you had seen this 2004 essay by Our Gracious Host: Deadly Genius
    > and the Back-To-Zero Problem.

    Interesting.

    > The three most obvious examples are painting, the literary novel
    > and classical music.

    Poetry too. Though maybe a little later.

    > It’s the same Intricate Fire station you already have. It only found Simon Phillips recently.

    Is that only available to paid subscribers, people you explicitly share it with, or am I missing something else?

    • >Is that only available to paid subscribers, people you explicitly share it with, or am I missing something else?

      I actually don’t know. I think John Bell was able to listen to it without subscribing.

  10. esr:

    Last year, I decided to explore jazz fusion because of your love of it; and since I already knew and loved Frank Zappa’s “Peaches en Regalia”, I was optimistic. So I listened to tracks from several albums, included those you mention in the OP. I only liked what I heard from Return to Forever, School Days, Jaco Pastorius’ self-titled album, and Heavy Weather. Sorry ’bout that. Like DMcCunney, I wish I knew why I like what I like and dislike what I dislike.

    But even if my tastes are pedestrian in relation to yours, they’re superior to those of most people these days, especially here in Latin America. Believe me, you’d be appalled to hear the unbearable shit most people here seem to enjoy – and which they force upon the few of us who don’t have the aesthetic sensibility of a caveman. (If you think I’m being too harsh, go to YouTube and find some sample of the “musical” genre known as ‘reggaeton’. You’ll bail out after a few seconds and develop a renewed appreciation for country music and fifties pop.)

    I remember when I was very young being actually saddened at hearing John Coltrane praised as the hottest innovator in jazz and then finding him boring and irritating.

    But in the blog post John linked to above, you stated that Coltrane – among a few others – was a pioneer who “produced works of brilliance” and such. Why the contradiction?

    I like music with a lot of complexity and nuance too, but exercises in pure cerebration leave me cold.

    But that’s how I feel about some of the music you like, such as what I’ve heard by Porcupine Tree, Ozric Tentacles, and – IIRC – Planet X. Since you like those musicians, I assume they’re talented; but I didn’t find any of that material appealing on a visceral level. :-(

    Say, does Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” count as fusion? ’Cause I’ve long liked it, though not as much as Zappa’s “Peaches…”.

    • > Why the contradiction?

      Because sometimes I can recognize that a musician is doing brilliant work in an idiom that bores or repels me. Another example of this is Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails. I can tell that he is a an extremely capable artist who is getting exactly the effect he wants, I just don’t happen to like the effect.

    • >Say, does Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” count as fusion?

      He generally gets categorized just as “virtuoso guitarist off doing his own thing”. Hmmm….and considering the matter, I think that’s because the expectations around “jazz fusion” are very much about ensemble playing with layered arrangements in which the focus is passed among multiple musicians during a track. I’m sure Johnson could play in that kind of band, he’s just to all appearances not very interested in doing so.

  11. I’ve not kept up with what is happening in jazz, but if I might recommend an album to you: Neil Ardley, _Kaleidoscope of Rainbows_. Inspired by but not confined to the Balinese pelog scale, and gorgeous music, especially one heartbreakingly beautiful sax solo by Barbara Thompson on the fourth track.

    • >Neil Ardley, _Kaleidoscope of Rainbows_.

      That is very odd and very beautiful. It sounds, as I’m sure it’s intended to, like an import from an alternate world where Western music evolved down a slightly different path. Reminds me of a jam band called “Omphrey” that used to come up on my Pandora channel; here’s a sample.

  12. This is great. I am also a big fan of the prog rock / jazz fusion combination despite being relatively young. Here are some more recent albums you and/or your readers will probably like:

    * Cosmosquad (album of the same name, late 90s) – They were an ad hoc group. Their style is very much progressive rock influenced.
    * Donati, Fierabracci, Gambale: Made in Australia (2003) – This was a live album of a jazz fusion trio. Donati is the same Virgil Donati from Planet X. It has a very bizarre “proggish” sound. I find myself playing this album over and over again. It may be hard to find nowadays.
    * Fromuz: Audio Diplomacy (2007) and Overlook (2009) – They are a Middle Eastern group that sounds like Liquid Tension Experiment with a slight Arabian tone.

  13. @ esr

    I’ll be passing this thread on to my kid, who’s going through a Jazz phase right now in his listening. Thanks.

    I found a CD of Oscar Peterson playing Porgy and Bess the other day, but my kid wasn’t into it much. I told my kid I wished I’d been alive when Jazz was still getting geared up and Gershwin was writing, because I wished I’d been able to hear Jazz when it was still super-disruptive. I don’t think the kid got it, but youth is… youth. I think the closest I ever came to that moment was hearing “Blinded Me With Science” for the first time.

    @ James Jones

    I spent a month or two on Bali when I was young (30 years ago) so I’ll definitely dig that up. I’ve got to get a new pair of headphones first.

  14. @esr
    > > I think you will like Area
    > Too much weirdness for the sake of weirdness.

    I wish Pandora had more sophisticated controls. I tried to put together a “station” that was the weirdest of the stuff I listen to (Cramps, Legendary Pink Dots, Einstürzende Neubauten, Butthole Surfers etc.) what I wanted was songs associated with the *intersection* of those sets. What I got was songs associated with the union. Which was pretty much the rest of my playlist anyway.

    Regarding Simon Phillips, would it be considered insulting to say that it reminds me of Steely Dan w/out the vocals?

    • >Regarding Simon Phillips, would it be considered insulting to say that it reminds me of Steely Dan w/out the vocals?

      Insulting, no, but it suggests you don’t have a very educated jazz ear. While there is significant similarity in tone color and style, Phillips and Timmons are playing at a technical level well above Steely Dan (and I say that as a serious Dan fan back in their day). The most obvious indication of this is the polyrhythmic drumming over odd time; Steely Dan never got very far away from a basic 4/4 or 2/4. Biplane is in 7/4 (could be 7/8, the difference is mainly notational).

  15. > But I have a very, very discriminating ear (the kind you find in pro studio engineers and really serious audiophiles)…When I remember music I remember it with details others often barely notice, like pick-scrape noises in the guitar solos.

    I’ve found myself noticing this kind of detail myself, especially more recently. As an example, I was listening to an Iron Maiden song a few days ago, and found my attention being drawn to the solo. The nature of the pick attack was jumping out at me. From how the pick chirped before the note itself sounded, I found myself thinking that it sounded like the string was bouncing off the pick as it was swung towards the string to strike it again. I’m actually somewhat annoyed now that I don’t remember which song it was, as I’d like to go back again and listen for what other detail I could pick out.

    The idea of being able to pick out details of pick attack intrigues me — I wonder how well that could be trained. When playing by myself, I can hear the difference between a heavy-gauge narrow-tipped nylon pick like the Dunlop Jazz III, and say, a traditional-shaped medium celluloid like the Fender Standard. But I name those picks as examples. I couldn’t tell you what particular pick was being used unless I was holding it. If someone else were playing, I could only tell you that a different pick was being used. But, could an ear be trained to the point that one could pick out the material, thickness, and tip type from a recording, even with everything else happening in the mix?

    • >But, could an ear be trained to the point that one could pick out the material, thickness, and tip type from a recording, even with everything else happening in the mix?

      I don’t know. For recordings with a constant string type, maybe. Both of the contact surfaces will condition the noise.

  16. @esr: Phillips and Timmons are playing at a technical level well above Steely Dan (and I say that as a serious Dan fan back in their day). The most obvious indication of this is the polyrhythmic drumming over odd time; Steely Dan never got very far away from a basic 4/4 or 2/4.

    If you take a look at Dan’s drummers over the years, you see some very highly regarded names. They could have done the sorts of things you like, and chose not to. Not surprising – they were crafting pop tunes, and the intended audience expected a basic beat.

    The audience Phillips and Timmons are playing for does appreciate things like polyrhythmic drumming, but Phillips and Timmons are unlikely to ever sell platimum.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >They could have done the sorts of things you like, and chose not to.

      Maybe. I grant you Steely Dan had some of the best in the 1970s, but the state of the art was different then; even the likes of Steve Gadd hadn’t assimilated odd time into their playing. That didn’t even really start to happen in pop and rock music until David Byrne and Peter Gabriel in the next decade.

      Even today, a trap drummer as fluent in odd time as Phillips is not exactly a common thing.

  17. > Insulting, no, but it suggests you don’t have a very educated jazz ear.

    You don’t have to suggest it. You can come right out and state it.

    Jazz is much to crazy, you can’t play it when you’re old. :)

    Most of the stuff I listen to is 4/4, if it’s consistent enough to have that.

    • >What do you think of the rhythms Neil Peart comes up with?

      I enjoy them. I was a Rush fan from their early days of proggy concept albums.

  18. @esr: >But, could an ear be trained to the point that one could pick out the material, thickness, and tip type from a recording, even with everything else happening in the mix?

    I don’t know. For recordings with a constant string type, maybe. Both of the contact surfaces will condition the noise.
    Stroke also matters. I saw commentary a while back from someone who was present at a session where legendary guitarist Charlie Christian was recording. (Christian came to prominence in Benny Goodman’s swing band. Electric guitars were common in swing bands, but all were rhythm instruments. Christian was the first to make guitar a lead instrument, and his solos were complements to Goodman’s clarinet.)

    Christian played with the right hand firmly braced against the guitar body, and all notes were produced by strong down strokes of the pick. Later guitarists used more sophisticated technique.

    He died at 25 of TB, and I’ve wondered what he might have done had he lived longer.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >[Christian] died at 25 of TB, and I’ve wondered what he might have done had he lived longer.

      First reading his bio, many years ago now, dropped a puzzle piece into place for me. I had noticed that a lot of early electric-guitar lead lines sounded more like sax or clarinet solos than anything derived from acoustic guitar – not in tambre but in the shape and timing of the melody. It turns out that Charlie Christian’s influence on other guitarists was at least part of what I was hearing – he consciously modeled his lead lines on horn technique.

  19. @esr: >They could have done the sorts of things you like, and chose not to.

    Maybe. I grant you Steely Dan had some of the best in the 1970s, but the state of the art was different then; even the likes of Steve Gadd hadn’t assimilated odd time into their playing. That didn’t even really start to happen in pop and rock music until David Byrne and Peter Gabriel in the next decade.

    There’s a difference between what a musician can play and what she does play. You play what you are asked to play. The folks recording with Steely Dan were studio folks accustomed to walking in, grabbing coffee, sitting down, tuning up, looking at the charts, and being able to produce music that fits the style of what is being recorded as requested by the producer. How many producers would ask for odd time signatures, when recording stuff intended for a mass audience? None, really.

    Even today, a trap drummer as fluent in odd time as Phillips is not exactly a common thing.

    Oh, certainly, and the majority of drummers might not be able to do it. But having the ability at all isn’t really a recent phenomenon.
    ______
    Dennis

  20. esr:

    …the focus is passed among multiple musicians during a track.

    Oops! I should have noticed that pattern. Thanks for the correction. Interestingly, that structure is kind of inverted in the hard rock instrumental “Frankenstein”, where a single musician (Edgar Winter) plays different instruments in sequence. You almost surely know it; but on the off-chance you don’t, take a look at these search results.

    [Odd time] didn’t even really start to happen in pop and rock music until David Byrne and Peter Gabriel in the next decade.

    What? There had already been some pop/rock tracks with unusual time signatures, such as the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Pink Floyd’s “Money”, Devo’s “Jocko Homo”, and Genesis’ “Turn It On Again”.

    I was a Rush fan from their early days of proggy concept albums.

    Aren’t you bothered by Geddy Lee’s high-pitched voice? I’m not, but I had you pegged as rather touchy about voices. :-P

    Among the very few Rush songs I know, I particularly like “The Trees”, with its libertarian lyrics and delightful instrumental passages.

    • >What? There had already been some pop/rock tracks with unusual time signatures, such as the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Pink Floyd’s “Money”, Devo’s “Jocko Homo”, and Genesis’ “Turn It On Again”.

      Sure, but in those tracks the odd time was…not hidden, exactly, but assimilated towards styles the listener was already familiar with. Money for example, is played so the 7/4 almost blurs into a blues shuffle. Turn It On Again was mostly written in 13/8, but Mike Rutherford had trouble telling it wasn’t 4/4; the Wikipedia article notes that Phil Collins had to explain the timing to him.

      What changed after 1980 is that use of odd time became not only much more common but more foregrounded. As late as 1983, the intro to Yes’s single Changes with its alternating 7/4-10/4 time was quite the item of exotica. But things were changing. Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, and even Toto were opening more space for that kind of thing even in the pop charts – and I was loving every second of that development.

    • >Aren’t you bothered by Geddy Lee’s high-pitched voice?

      No more than most vocalists. I’m not a big fan of vocal music in general.

      >Among the very few Rush songs I know, I particularly like “The Trees”

      A favorite of mine among their work, as well.

  21. @esr: >[Christian] died at 25 of TB, and I’ve wondered what he might have done had he lived longer.

    First reading his bio, many years ago now, dropped a puzzle piece into place for me. I had noticed that a lot of early electric-guitar lead lines sounded more like sax or clarinet solos than anything derived from acoustic guitar – not in tambre but in the shape and timing of the melody. It turns out that Charlie Christian’s influence on other guitarists was at least part of what I was hearing – he consciously modeled his lead lines on horn technique.

    And what goes around, comes around. A rock critic back in the 60’s (R. Meltzer, I think), said Jimi Hendrix was playing 50’s sax riffs on electric guitar. He was onto something.

    But Christian hearing horn players and saying “I bet I can do that on guitar!” would be no surprise, and taking his cues from Goodman’s clarinet work when playing in Goodman’s band would be a natural. Goodman’s recognition of what Christian could do, and giving him an opportunity to do it had all manner of influence.

    And there are things you can do on electric guitar you can’t do on acoustic, like sustain, so you need to look elsewhere for models on what to do with the capability.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >A rock critic back in the 60’s (R. Meltzer, I think), said Jimi Hendrix was playing 50’s sax riffs on electric guitar. He was onto something.

      Yes, he was. I noticed the same thing, independently, a few years after Hendrix died.

      >And there are things you can do on electric guitar you can’t do on acoustic, like sustain, so you need to look elsewhere for models on what to do with the capability.

      Exactly my thought when I noticed the pattern. And, really, in the environment of ’30s and ’40s jazz it’s hard to see how what other instrument family but brass they could have chosen to emulate that would have had the right combination of dynamic range, sustain, and agility to be a suitable model for instruments like the Frying Pan and the early Gibsons.

  22. You guys are making me want to take up the trumpet again, or perhaps learn sax, if for no other reason than to see what guitar riffs from the likes of Dream Theater or other prog groups sound like on it.

  23. @esr: >A rock critic back in the 60’s (R. Meltzer, I think), said Jimi Hendrix was playing 50’s sax riffs on electric guitar. He was onto something.

    Yes, he was. I noticed the same thing, independently, a few years after Hendrix died.

    Hendrix was still alive when he said it, but it made sense. Jimi was taking guitar beyond the blues and R&B roots he started from, and exploring what else it could do. I’ve seen well founded speculation that had he not fallen down the rabbit hole of Heroin, he’d be a top jazz player now.

    >And there are things you can do on electric guitar you can’t do on acoustic, like sustain, so you need to look elsewhere for models on what to do with the capability.

    Exactly my thought when I noticed the pattern. And, really, in the environment of ’30s and ’40s jazz it’s hard to see how what other instrument family but brass they could have chosen to emulate that would have had the right combination of dynamic range, sustain, and agility to be a suitable model for instruments like the Frying Pan and the early Gibsons.

    Woodwinds, perhaps, since clarinets were common is swing bands, though Benny Goodman is the only one who comes to mind who made it a lead instrument. Strings are another, though they (with the exception of the double bass) were far less common. (I ran across a track on You Tube from Vivien Garry and Her All Girl Band recorded in the early 50’s. Garry was that rara avis, a female jazz double bass player. She normally played in a trio format with her guitarist husband and a pianist, but here she’s leading a quintet with piano, drums, bass, cornet, and violin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCkWdmJMbBE Violin and cornet work nicely together.)

    But trumpet, sax, and trombone were most common, and would be what was drawn from.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >Woodwinds, perhaps, since clarinets were common is swing bands

      Yes, that thought occurred to me. But although I think swing clarinet work probably did shape the early guitar sound, I would expect brass to be a more thought-provoking model than woodwinds because brass instruments have in general a wider dynamic range. Specifically because they can handle higher wind pressures before doubling their vibrational mode.

  24. @Jeremy: You guys are making me want to take up the trumpet again, or perhaps learn sax, if for no other reason than to see what guitar riffs from the likes of Dream Theater or other prog groups sound like on it.

    A chap I spent time talking to at an SF con last year was a corporate type who played in a metal band for fun, and was a big fan of folks like Metallica and Judas Priest. But his axe was trumpet, which I don’t think of as a metal band instrument. I’ve never been a big metal fan, but I’d love to hear his band play, simply to see what they do with horns in their mix.
    ______
    Dennis

  25. esr:

    What changed after 1980 is that use of odd time became not only much more common but more foregrounded.

    I’ll have to take your word for it.

    I’m not a big fan of vocal music in general.

    Allow me to recommend one more instrumental, then: the “Catcerto”. While feline paws aren’t well suited for the playing of keyboards, the humans involved did a good job of editing the material and writing an orchestral arrangement to accompany it. Some might dismiss it as just an elaborate joke; all I can say is that I find it aesthetically pleasing, and it’s relatively short (4:51) to boot.

    • >Some might dismiss it as just an elaborate joke; all I can say is that I find it aesthetically pleasing, and it’s relatively short (4:51) to boot.

      Our cat was absolutely fascinated by this. No, I’m not joking; he watched it, cradled in Cathy’s arms, with a look of intense concentration.

  26. > … But his axe was trumpet, which I don’t think of as a metal band instrument.

    True. When I think of trumpets in a rock band, I think of ska, not metal.

    But in a way, it can make some sense when you think about it. It’s been probably a couple decades at this point since I’ve played trumpet, but I recall reading that a trumpet’s power lies in the midrange and upper-midrange. With as loud and cutting I recall my trumpet being, I believe it. And the mids and upper-mids is where a lead guitar fills in the mix in a band context. Yes, a guitar’s fundamental frequencies go lower than that of a trumpet, almost as low as a trombone. But it’s the mids knob on your amp you turn up when you want to cut through the mix, not the bass knob.

  27. @esr: >Woodwinds, perhaps, since clarinets were common is swing bands

    Yes, that thought occurred to me. But although I think swing clarinet work probably did shape the early guitar sound, I would expect brass to be a more thought-provoking model than woodwinds because brass instruments have in general a wider dynamic range. Specifically because they can handle higher wind pressures before doubling their vibrational mode.

    Agreed. I think clarinet was likely pivotal in what Charlie Christian did, simply because he was playing in Benny Goodman’s band, and Goodman gave him the opportunity to be a lead instrument and solo, but something like a sax would be a more obvious model. I was just thinking of other things that might be models.
    ______
    Dennis

  28. @Jeremy: > … But his axe was trumpet, which I don’t think of as a metal band instrument.

    True. When I think of trumpets in a rock band, I think of ska, not metal.

    Now, yes, though people have attempted to add horns to rock for a long time, witness acts like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago. I don’t think all of the attempts have been successful, and was never a particular fan of Chicago, but at least they were trying to push the envelope of the form.

    I grew up in Philadelphia, and a popular local act was a blues band called Sweet Stavin Chain. They had the standard guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, harmonica line up, but added horns to the mix. And horns were a standard part of a lot of R&B.

    I think the key factor was that the swing bands and others that used horns were dance bands, with the assumption that success involved getting the audience up and dancing. A lot of rock bands weren’t playing dance music.

    (And I saw an amusing account years back of a gig played by disco drummer Hamilton Bohannon’s band, where the audience just sat there while his band played, but were up and shaking it as soon as the DJ started playing tracks. “People, we’re a dance band! Get out there and shake your booty!” He was non-plussed, and hard to blame him.)

    Along those lines, I saw popular reggae band UB-40 back when, and they had horns in the mix.

    A lot of it likely came down to economics. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts started as a trad jazz player, and was touring with the Charlie Watts Big Band at one point when the Stones were on hiatus. Because he was the Stone’s drummer, he could attract big enough audiences to support the additional costs. Most other bands couldn’t.

    There are a number of Latino bands in NYC, playing Salsa, Mariachi and the like, and they tend to have horns in the mix. As a rule, the band leader is the only full-time member. The rest of the band all have day jobs, and play in the bands as a side line.

    A current example of down sizing is Richard Thompson. I’ve seen him with a seven piece band inclusing sax, flute, and accordion. These days, he tours as the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, because he can’t afford the extended lineup he might prefer. The market simply isn’t there now to support it.

    But yeah, I’d be curious to see what a metal band did with horns.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >Now, yes, though people have attempted to add horns to rock for a long time, witness acts like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago.

      I was no Chicago fan, but I liked the earthier sound of BS&T.

      Nobody does that anymore; I think I know why. The decline of brass sections and saxes in rock seems to have coincided with the Africanization of black pop music by Sly and the Family Stone after 1966.

      There’ve been two or three generations since, enough that only people old enough to be my parents remember what the sound of most black popular music was like before than – it was what we’d now think of as smooth R&B as far as the eye can see. Sly hit the scene like a thunderbolt – loud, rhythmic, and when I say “funky”, you know what I mean, but that’s because Sly for all intents and purposes invented funk. It’s often credited to James Brown, and there are arguments for other innovators such as the early Isley Brothers as well, but The Family Stone drew all the elements of various precursors together into a fully-developed style that was more than the sum of its parts, and proceeded to tremendously influence other black (and white) musicians of the late 60s and early 70s.

      Point being that after the funk transformation, horn sections were something funk bands did; they disappeared from rock music made by white boys at exactly the speed that they became a genre signature for black pop music. The saxophone slung on Meatloaf’s back had been a staple of late 50s to early 60s rock but already looked faintly anachronistic in ’73.

      I’ll note by the way that I lived through the funk transformation but didn’t fully understand what Sly had wrought until many years later, when I grasped that one of the most important tributaries of the 1970s jazz fusion I loved was the jazz funk that immediately preceded it in the work of people like Herbie Hancock and George Duke – originally acoustic jazz players who electrified in response to the funk transformation and would in turn strongly influence a lot of fusionists.

  29. “A lot of rock bands weren’t playing dance music..”

    Rock started as dance music, just like jazz, and most other styles of music. (Strauss is dance music…) Elijah Wald wrote “How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll” about how popular music got separated from dance music.

    • >Hiromi.

      This track comes up on my Pandora channel, and I like. I’m more impressed knowing it came from a person who is female and Japanese.

      >Darcy James Argue

      Technically clever, and has some moments in the latter half, but through much of it I was left wondering what the point was.

  30. There is also nu jazz, try to search YouTube for Kruder & Dorfmeister. For me it was a surprising experience. It is generally listened to by the same people who listen to techno or house. But it is jazz, electronic or manual instruments I do not know but it is definitely jazz. However it borrows the repetitive, hypnotic logic of techno or house. This is why the demographics overlap.

    It made me understand any music could be “techno” if you just use a technique of repetition.

    Perhaps the overlap is that this type of music is highly compatible with drugs. I don’t know, I don’t do them but the hypnotic effect works for me without any.

    I would really be interested in a book about the history of the repetitive technique. I could track it back to Philip Glass and no further.

    Is it also true that house used to be a nonelectric, instrumental music, roughly for and by the same Chicago black demographic who were also active in jazz, so basically on the periphery of jazz culture? Can someone link to a YouTube of such early, nonelectric house to me? Sounds like a milestone in the development of the repetitive technique.

  31. For the record I love both Hiromi and Darcy James Argue. Argue’s Secret Society probably more so.

    Another to check out is Mostly Other People Do The Killing. I wouldn’t start with their notorious Blue though, which is a note for note cover of Kind of Blue.

  32. I would really be interested in a book about the history of the repetitive technique. I could track it back to Philip Glass and no further.

    The repetitive technique came out of the fact that its easy to make a synthesizer of the sixties/seventies repeat the same note over and over again at an exactly fixed interval, with the speed of the interval set by a dial. Then you can change the note, but not the interval, by touching a different key on the keyboard. Lots of people who knew synthesizers, but not much about playing an instrument, made plenty of bad music that way. Every once in awhile you ran into people like Jean Michele Jarre who managed to do that with some charm, but they were generally exceptions. Anyone who’s interested in good synthesized music from that era should probably look up Synergy on youtube.

  33. @esr:
    That didn’t even really start to happen in pop and rock music until David Byrne and Peter Gabriel in the next decade.

    Actually, Peter Gabriel was doing this with Genesis in the early/mid 70’s–for example, the section “Apocalypse in 9/8” from “Supper’s Ready” on the Foxtrot album (IIRC), and some of the stuff in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. But I agree it wasn’t very common back then (I only discovered Genesis in the mid 80’s from a college roommate who had all their old albums).

    • >Actually, Peter Gabriel was doing this with Genesis in the early/mid 70’s

      Indeed, Genesis was doing odd-time stuff very early (my favorite example is probably Watcher of the Skies, which shifts between 6/4 and 8/4). That was at least in part Phil Collins’s doing – he was quite the cutting-edge drummer before he became an annoying pop idol, I still treasure his work with Brand X. But that was self-consciously experimental music, far from the pop mainstream.

  34. “I tried to put together a “station” that was the weirdest of the stuff I listen to (Cramps, Legendary Pink Dots, Einstürzende Neubauten, Butthole Surfers etc.) ”

    Is the intersection of that set non-empty?

    (I say this as an LPD/Ka-Spel fan, who adores Neubauten, likes later BHS, and never cared about the Cramps.

    I can’t think of what the intersection of even the first two would be, let alone three or four.

    Maybe early Current 93?)

  35. DJA’s Secret Society’s latest album Real Enemies has to be consumed whole for you to catch all of the flavor. The standalone cut doesn’t stand alone.

    Mostly Other People Do the Killing, reminds me of Arto Lindsay’s stuff, Lounge Lizards et al. That can work. I’ll listen to more, even though it doesn’t swing.

    I first heard Hiromi several years ago on the Stanley Clarke Band album, which is still a very good listen. She happens to be Ahmad Jamal’s star pupil, and she has a feel for classical Jazz fusion like nobody since Jacques Loussier. I now need to backfill my Simon Phillips.

    Speaking of clever for clever’s sake, has the Bad Plus come back to their senses?

    • >I now need to backfill my Simon Phillips.

      Yes. Yes, you do.

      I am left wondering how in the bleeding hell I was unaware of him for so long. I probably ought to have “Simon Phillips’s target audience” tattooed on my forehead. I haven’t been so utterly blown away by an artist new to me since I discovered Liquid Tension Experiment back in 2007.

      Probably what happened is that his albums didn’t make it to Pandora until very recently. Dunno how else I’d have found him. Sure as hell Protocol wasn’t going to get radio airplay even if I still listened to radio.

  36. Looking into Simon Phillips discography, he’s played on several of Hiromi’s albums. As well as many other very good albums. 801! is incredible.

  37. esr:

    The saxophone slung on Meatloaf’s back had been a staple of late 50s to early 60s rock but already looked faintly anachronistic in ’73.

    But Supertramp kept using the sax, and other pop/rock acts included it in certain songs throughout the seventies and eighties; as late as 1989, Elton John released a song with a sax solo (it’s near the end :-P).

    Our cat was absolutely fascinated by [the Catcerto]. No, I’m not joking; he watched it, cradled in Cathy’s arms, with a look of intense concentration.

    I’m glad y’all enjoyed it. Well, my work is done here.

    But before I get beamed up: was it the first time one of your cats reacted to music?

    • >But before I get beamed up: was it the first time one of your cats reacted to music?

      First time either of ’em seemed anything other than utterly indifferent to it.

  38. Dennis McCunney:
    I think in words, myself. I take in information most easily by reading, much more easily than by hearing an explanation or seeing a demonstration. I do not visualize well at all, and most diagrams mean little to me (bar graphs and pie charts are the exception) unless I get a verbal explanation first.
    So which of my senses can be said to predominate?

  39. Jorge Dujan and esr:

    I think our cat was fascinated more by the cat visuals than the sounds produced per se, but that’s hard to prove given his lack of ability to explain his reactions in words.

  40. @Jorge Dujan: But Supertramp kept using the sax, and other pop/rock acts included it in certain songs throughout the seventies and eighties; as late as 1989, Elton John released a song with a sax solo (it’s near the end :-P).

    70’s band Roxy Music used sax and oboe, courtesy of band member Andy Mackay. Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band had sax player Clarence “Big Man” Clemons as a critical component. Stealer’s Wheel had a huge hit single whose signature riff was a sax solo by Rafael Ravenscroft.

    A fair number of instruments other than guitar/bass/drums/keyboard have been and are used in rock – consider Jethro Tull, whose leader/writer IAn Anderson plays flute. But the key is that they are individual instruments, and not full instrumental sections.

    With the exception of Chicago (still touring the last I knew), I can’t think of any rock band incorporating a full horn section the way a swing band did, and don’t expect to see one.
    ______
    Dennis

    • >70’s band Roxy Music used sax and oboe, courtesy of band member Andy Mackay. Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band had sax player Clarence “Big Man” Clemons as a critical component. Stealer’s Wheel had a huge hit single whose signature riff was a sax solo by Rafael Ravenscroft.

      The key fact here is that we can enumerate most of the individual instances easily. You can’t do that with instruments that are really ubiquitous in a genre.

  41. @Catherine Raymond: I think in words, myself. I take in information most easily by reading, much more easily than by hearing an explanation or seeing a demonstration. I do not visualize well at all, and most diagrams mean little to me (bar graphs and pie charts are the exception) unless I get a verbal explanation first.

    And you’ve touched on a pet peeve. An increasing number of software projects are using video as main documentation. I can read far faster than I can watch, and time is my scarce resource. Video is fine as an adjunct, but written docs still rule.

    So which of my senses can be said to predominate?
    Which do you think does?

    One question is the quality of your vision. As mentioned, my SO’s vision is poor. Without glasses, she can’t see things clearly beyond about two feet away. No surprise vision isn’t her primary sense. I wear glasses, but they are OTC reading glasses, compensating for the fact that I’ve gotten far-sighted as I aged. I don’t wear them unless I’m doing something like reading.

    And what sense will predominate is more than a matter of the quality of the individual senses, and will depend on how the individual is wired. I ran across a case some time back of an engineer who couldn’t find his way to work. Testing revealed he wasn’t visual at all. Landmarks conveyed nothing to him. But he did have a strong kinesthetic sense. So they drove him from his home to his office in a tightly sprung sports car that transmitted every bump, ripple and twist in the road. Thereafter, he could find his way to work with no problem because his body remembered what the route felt like. I was fascinated.
    ______
    Dennis
    .

  42. Catherine Raymond:

    I think our cat was fascinated more by the cat visuals than the sounds produced per se, but that’s hard to prove…

    You could play the video again with the sound off, and see if Zola reacts to the images. Or the reverse: you could leave the sound on, but hide the images from him.

    The problem with that idea is that whatever grabbed Zola’s attention the first time might not grab it a second time, due to his being already familiar with the material; but it seems worth a try.

    …given his lack of ability to explain his reactions in words.

    Amusingly, the other day I met a Siamese cat who was repeatedly meowing in a timbre that sounded almost human.

    • >What do you think of David Teie?

      Interesting concept. I’d like to see his experimental protocols for cataloging sounds that cats respond to.

  43. Something that I have just listened to on local radio:

    Laurent Garnier – The Man With The Red Face

  44. Bruce and esr:

    >What do you think of David Teie?
    Interesting concept. I’d like to see his experimental protocols for cataloging sounds that cats respond to.

    Yes, it’s interesting and I hadn’t seen it before. Thanks, Bruce.

    I’ve seen this phrase attributed to Albert Schweitzer: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” (Personally, I’d add dogs to the list.) So, as part of the music-and-cats theme we’ve been exploring, here’s the “Duetto buffo di due gatti”. (The video’s title and description attribute it to Rossini, but the Wikipedia article disputes that. Not being a classical-music connoisseur, I’ve no idea who’s right.)

    Jakub Narebski:

    Something that I have just listened to on local radio:
    Laurent Garnier – The Man With The Red Face

    I found it fairly pleasant. Thanks. And there was something near the end that reminded me of Yellow Magic Orchestra, which I quite like (at least what little I’ve heard by them).

    • >So, as part of the music-and-cats theme we’ve been exploring, here’s the “Duetto buffo di due gatti”

      I listened to this, and the uppermost thought in my mind was “…and this is not a PDQ Bach parody?”

      But no; it was written in 1825, apparently. I have to wonder if the influence didn’t run in the other direction. Part of the last quarter of the piece might just have inspired the dueling-sopranos sequence in one of his spoof operas.

  45. I’m surprised that the Dave Brubeck Quartet has yet to be mentioned, in a discussion involving polyrhythms and odd time signatures in jazz.

  46. Now you should listen to it as jazz recordings were meant to be listened to — on a phonograph record, created with a 100% analog mastering process — to see if it still holds up. :)

  47. 1) amen. you nailed it. I’ve been waiting for music to start again, ever since world music, jazz fusion, and all this funky stew of stuff stopped spinning around some musical center of spiritual gravity that was compelling actual PROGRESS circa 1984…

    2) I think this ought to serve as a manifesto. You turned a major soul NEEDY cry of pathos into a “thank god it’s ok” by finding slivers of hope and grace in the 2 pieces mentioned at the end of the article, when I think it really should stand intact as a cry for help: a call to action.

    Music needs a kick in the ass. Music that has been purely constructed electronically is no longer fascinating for it’s own sake (I have spent over 25 years producing all sorts of electronica for dancefloors and more, so I’m not some outsider to the phenom)
    Like the partial-tones that form the timbre in additive synthesis, one inevitably confronts the harmonic interactions of these as they proceed in time.
    The melting pot is hot again… time to melt things.
    It’s time to return to the task of bringing music itself forward :D

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