How did you do on The Bad Plus's 90's blindfold test? If you haven't taken it yet, stop reading this post right now and go here. I give you fair warning: spoilers ensue. (In return, I trust no one will tell me what happened on the final Sopranos ep last night -- I HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET, I CAN'T HEAR YOU, LALALALALALALALALA... )
Right... okay, did everyone write down their answers? Now, go here for the results.
I hate blindfold tests. I went an embarrassing one for four.
I have no idea why I didn't get the Branford -- I mean, shit, it's obviously Tain on drums, and after that everything else falls into place. I never really warmed to Branford's swaggering, burn-the-house-down trios (at least on record -- live it's another story) so I don't own any of this stuff, but still, this one should have been a gimme.
As for the Paul Bley, if you were feeling generous, you might give me partial credit for recognizing Evan Parker -- but all that inside-the-piano stuff had me stumped. Of course, it shouldn't have, since I knew that (A) Bley has ridiculous facility with the extended techniques like those heard in the excerpt, and (B) Ethan is a maniac when it comes to Paul Bley. But Parker's presence had led me to expect a European pianist, and I'd completely forgotten about this record with Bley and Barre Phillips. Dammit. I shoulda had this one as well.
Track 3, on the other hand, was a genuine stumper. I heard Monder in there, but couldn't recognize Stomo and Satoshi, and I'm not familiar with Pat Zimmerli at all, so there was zero chance I'd ever have gotten this. Ethan offers the following equation: "Babbitt harmony + Carter rhythms + jazz saxophone = Pat Zimmerli." Babbitt and Carter are probably my two least favorite composers in the history of composed music, but of course YMMV -- if that kind of relentlessly austere mid-century high modernism really gets your juices flowing -- or you're just curious to hear how a virtuosic jazz musician approaches hexachordal combinatoriality -- you should definitely give Pat's stuff a listen.
The Rosenwinkel quartet track I got instantly, saving me from the humiliation of a total blowout. Rosenwinkel's music means a lot to the musicians I know. When I was living in Montreal, there was an obsessive trade in live bootlegs and even studio recordings that were languishing in record company limbo. "Good melody played clearly" is a virtue I always strive for in my own music, even when I'm not doing something explicitly melody-oriented, and my particular take on that comes from listening to Wayne Shorter, Kenny Wheeler, Keith Jarrett, Maria Schneider, Bill Frisell, and Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Ethan's post, though, is much more than a blindfold test. Over the course of giving the answers and talking about the above four artists (all of them either somewhat underrepresented or wholly unrepresented on the Destination: Out survey -- oh, hey, happy birthday, guys), Ethan offers up some thoroughly on-point observations about the 90's jazz scene, from his perspective as an active participant in it. You should, naturally, read the whole thing, but allow me to highlight some of my favorite bits:
Wayne Shorter was "fairly contemporary, but not as ill as Alan Shorter" - Wayne was "boxed in by Miles Davis" - David S. Ware is "infinitely superior to Wayne Shorter": these are truly uninformed assessments that happily go into the fool's ring and hang out along with the worst of Wynton, Branford, and Crouch.
For all his faults, which are numerous, Bley can immediately make interesting music out of anything, anywhere, anytime. On the excerpt I posted, track one, he uses "extended piano technique" like a master. Does Bley need to think much about playing the piano strings like a muted harp? I highly doubt it. He just reaches in and is immediately burning.
My own polemic is this: I believe that the tributaries that these two trios from 1996 represent are equally important considerations for the young improviser today. It hasn't really happened yet -- Joe Lovano comes closest -- but when players can eat up "Cherokee" with Jeff Watts and create free harmony with Barre Phillips at an equal level, that will really be something. The fact that one trio is all black and one all white means something, too: not that the races should stay apart, but that due respect for each stream is important. How many times have I wanted to tell a young black pianist, "You should check out some Paul Bley," and similarly to a young white pianist, "How would you sound if you had to play with Jeff Watts?"
Whereas the older trios are not dealing with much in the way of written structure, my two peer selections show off elaborate compositions. Compared with either traditional or free jazz, most of the interesting music coming out of my age group - those born between from, say, 1965 to 1975 - is extremely composition based, or at least conceptual in nature. In TBP, composing and arranging is featured more than "blowing," a paradigm that lives next to indie rock but also goes back to earlier jazz (and a paradigm that seems to really stump some of our critics).
It's not just in TBP, either, but (to name just those who are friends, but of course there are many more) Jason Moran's Bandwagon, Brad Mehldau, Guillermo Klein's Los Guachos, Happy Apple, Bill McHenry, Fly, John Hollenbeck, Craig Taborn, Ben Monder and Benoit Delbecq all build their music from the ground up, with either a swing beat or total freedom being merely possibilities, not givens -- in fact, often both are avoided.
A couple of nights had Turner almost levitating out the ceiling on something like "Cubism" or "Synthetics," and Street and Ballard could get to a scary level of earthy intensity. I've played with those two together a lot and it takes some guts, like playing with tigers.