EDITORIAL, by David Grundy
Hello. Well, here it is: the first issue of this new magazine. It must seem a pretty humble affair, and it would be wrong for me to claim that it can be any thing more than a mere snapshot of the vast amount of exciting stuff that’s going on in the worlds of jazz and improvised music today – in England, Europe, America, all over the world. And at first that’s probably how it’ll remain: modest in scope, it’s something of a pet project, which has taken pretty much half a year to bring into being, through the making of contacts via e-mail and telephone and letters, and immersing myself as much as possible in music, exposing myself to new artists, new styles – all that makes me thrill with the shock of the new, the unexpected. ‘Adventures in sound’ is the tagline of another, very well-known magazine focussing on avant-garde music –if I may take that phrase and modify it slightly, perhaps what I’m going to be concentrating on is ‘epiphanies in sound.’
At a time when the majority of pop music feels homogenous, has a distinct lack of experimentation or desire to push beyond the boundaries of what is expected and accepted, at a time when pop music acts as ear-candy, quickly swallowed and digested, then forgotten about, we have to ask ourselves: is this all we want from our generation’s creative artists? Is this we all want – the comforting wash, the aural cocoon – or do we want something else; do we want the startling glimpse, that moment of strange clarity when, “for a second [we] get it whole,” as the English poet Philip Larkin put it?
Another question arising from the consideration of these issues – is pop music really where most of the world is at? Or would most people, given the chance, given more sympathetic presentation in mainstream media, given a deeper, less vapid cultural understanding as a matter of course – would most people throw themselves beyond the accustomed, realising that there is something more to explore, a vein of rich expression that you’re really not going to find on the Spice Girls Reunion Tour? Maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t, but we’ll never know without trying. And of course, I don’t expect this magazine to reach a very wide readership – many, probably most of those looking at these words will be people already fully convinced by, and immersed in, the sort of music I’m talking about. I realise that, of course, it’s music you have to work hard at; but then, the best things in life don’t come free, and, the greater the efforts you put, in the greater the rewards you draw out. So it is with much of the music that Eartrip will cover.
For the most part, then, the magazine will not focus on the mainstream, the well-known, the popular – not because of elitism or snobbery, but because I genuinely feel that there is a lot of music out there which is unfairly neglected and which deserves serious coverage. Of course, there are already plenty of people writing about improvised music, often online: many blogs offer incisive commentary and downloads of rare, out-of-print music, and online magazines like Point of Departure, Touching Extremes and Paris Transatlantic all are well worth looking at. Of major publications, probably the best-known is The Wire, which started off by focussing on jazz and improvised music, but has since moved away from this initial core, so that those elements are increasingly pushed to one side in favour of other types of experimental and ‘left-field’ music. It’s still an excellent publication, but few magazines actually cover its original territory, so I thought I’d step in. I’m not pretending that this is the greatest, most in-depth coverage you’re likely to find, but I have a real interest in this music and a desire to, hopefully, bring it to a wider audience.
So, the above is something of a ‘mission statement’, I suppose. Now onto the meat of the magazine, what’s actually going to be appearing in the following pages. It may seem somewhat strange to make the first issue of a new magazine retrospective, which, in a sense, it is, looking as it does at the highlights of the past year in terms of jazz and improvised music. However, I think this is symptomatic of what Eartrip will be trying to do: celebrate the achievements of the past, present and future, making sure that we don’t forget the past masters whose legacies mean so much, but also that we focus on prospects for the future, and the people who are making living, breathing, organic music NOW.
With this in mind comes a roundup of the previous year’s best CDs and gigs: from the complex and difficult work of composer Richard Barrett’s group fORCH to the more accessible and dreamy, almost ambient sounds of a remarkable jazz album by indie-rock band His Name is Alive (no joke – this is the real deal!) You can also find opinions and dissections of many more recent releases in what will be a regular reviews section.
As for concerts, there’s an in-depth review of the landmark first meeting between pianist Cecil Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton (the first jazz gig at the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall in London), plus thoughts on tours of the UK by saxophonists Charles Gayle and Sonny Simmons. Also featured is an article on Taylor and Braxton’s concerts in Italy, later that summer, which lead Anthony Whiteford to undergo something of a personal odyssey, in which he was forced to ask some difficult questions about what the music of these two avant-garde titans has meant in his life. It really is a fascinating read.
Unfortunately, 2007 also seems to have been a particularly bad one in terms of how many great musicians and composers passed away: Alice Coltrane, Andrew Hill, Leroy Jenkins, Mike Osborne, Paul Rutherford, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Donald Ayler, Joe Zawinul, Ike Turner, Art Davis, Carlos “Patato” Valdes, Frank Morgan, Oscar Peterson, Michael Brecker. As well as making us value the greats we’ve got left all the more, such reminders of mortality may cause us to wonder who among the younger generation has the potential to carry the flame, to carry forward a legacy of innovation and full-throttle creative energy into what is still a young century. Such considerations pop up at various points in the magazine.
More specifically, this issue will feature a tribute to Paul Rutherford, perhaps the most under-appreciated of all the musicians listed above, but one of the greatest exponents of free improvisation, who earned the almost unanimous respect of his musicians and peers.
There’ll also be an interview with two of the key players in the British jazz scene for the past half-century: Mike and Kate Westbrook. Perhaps eclipsed by that other great jazz couple, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, it could nevertheless be argued that their contribution is even more significant. Their compositions and performances have encompassed everything from classical to jazz, cabaret to opera, Ellington to the Beatles to Rossini to William Blake, literature and the visual arts, poetry, parody, pastiche and pure inspiration. Their most recent concerts have been with a new project, a small group that very much emphasises the local, and sees the mix of the old and the modern that I mentioned before. Discussing this and a wide range of other issues, it should make interesting reading.
The Westbrooks have a fairly close connection (in the spirit, if not always obviously in the mechanics of their music) with what the uncompromising avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey termed ‘non-idiomatic free improvisation.’ What precisely this constitutes is a matter of debate, and one which is addressed in an article by a sometime punk-rocker, sometime-author, and sometime dabbler in free improvisation, Andy Martin. Earlier this year, the band of which he is a member, UNIT, gave a performance at the annual, London-based showcase of free improvisation, the Freedom of the City festival; he himself describes what they played as a “horrible racket,” but this negative experience prompted him to write an insightful essay in which he looks at the risks and rewards that go with this type of music. Eye-opening reading, especially if you’re coming to this for the first time, and even if you’re not.
It’s not just Britain that appears in the pages of this magazine: we also present the first in a series of articles by Dan Huppatz, focussing on New York’s thriving ‘Downtown Scene.’ This time, the subject is the prolific and versatile bassist, campaigner and educator William Parker.
Worldwide, the increasingly availability and improved performance of technology, particularly the internet, has created a whole new set of possibilities and potential problems for all kinds of music: jazz is no exception. I’ll be examining the case of ‘sharity’ blogs, asking questions about the legal and moral issues involved in fans making out-of-print music available on the internet.
So, as you can see, an eclectic bill, one which to some extent encompasses the diversity to be found in jazz and improvised music.
Please bear in mind that this is a fledgling publication and this first issue is essentially just a starting point, a launch-off pad for what will, if all goes well, increase in quality and depth with each new edition. Ideally, I would have liked to make it a print publication (my original plan), but I realised that it going to be just too difficult maintaining such a venture, what with the costs of printing and distribution, and the generally unfavourable climate for serious jazz and improvised music today. But hopefully, whatever the format, you’ll find much to enjoy, inspire, and challenge, inside. I wish you happy reading!
Send suggestions, corrections and thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to David Grundy, Robinson College, Cambridge, CB3 9AN.