Link Roundup: Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010

Hope you were reminded of this yesterday. "The songs of a more complicated urban existence" — dude could deliver a speech.

On Critical Consensus: Jazz composer Graham Collier explores why some artists make waves, and why others (like himself) fail to receive year-end attention. It's atop his blog, jazz continuum. And he is right, to some point: professional listeners, whether editors, critics, radio programmers, what-have-you, don't always properly go beyond their comfort zones in their surveys of new music. I disagree with his (and Chris Kelsey's) characterization of some recent big-band records as "perfectly fine, skillfully written, yet formally conventional" — what about 19-minute through-composed John Hollenbeck pieces is formally conventional? — but the point is taken. One influential person actively seeking out something new vs. reaching for the next CD on the pile can be the tipping point to (relatively) wide acclaim, or the difference between that and continued obscurity.

Frankly, I like seeing critical consensus emerge, even if it is the result of buzz reaching saturation, or aggressive publicity in support of a good record. I understand those caveats, even if the general public doesn't; I also trust that critics are being honest about what they like regardless of those factors. Plus, I enjoy watching the hive mind at work; it elevates people to wider attention who deserve it, and at very least, the end product is something you can debate. But it's not the ideal experience of criticism, and it always results in overlooked records — like Collier's directing 14 Jackson Pollocks.

Perception Of Emotion In Jazz Improvisation: This paper, via Jazzhouse Diaries, is fascinating. Among other things, it finds that people who were exposed to a critic's description of John Coltrane as an "angry young tenor" were significantly more likely to perceive anger in his playing. The few people who did perceive anger in Coltrane's music were also much more likely to be angry people themselves. The difference between what jazz artists are trying to convey and what their notes evoke in listeners isn't a new subject of inquiry; it remains intriguing.

Who Hears Jazz?: Larry Blumenfeld summarizes some of the jazz world's responses to the NEA Arts Audience Survey of 2008 — you know, the one which inspired Terry Teachout's "Can Jazz Be Saved?" editorial. As much as I think that Teachout piece was bothersome, does it anger anyone else when overzealous DJs or concert emcees misconstrue his argument? As in, "The Wall Street Journal said jazz is dead, but here's proof that it isn't!" Usually, those are the sorts of people who prove Teachout's point — and he has one — that jazz fans are skirting the problem of declining audiences by claiming that "the music is still great!"

German Jazz Band Plays Iran: They'll play Ellington pieces at the German Embassy in Tehran. The Ayatollah "favors jazz," we know; one wonders what those in power think about the supposed American-ness of the stuff.

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