More on the Vision Festival and associated issues...
Part of the issue for me gets back to the role of so-called critics, pundits, and writers. I'm less interested in opinions than I am in descriptions of the music: how it made you feel, how it sounded, etc. Mr. Olewnick's review tells me more about his own personal taste and prejudices than it does about the music made. Is it the role of a critic to dictate what a musician should or should not do? Is a critic more qualified to determine how a musician should interact or play in a band than the musicians themselves? Of course it's okay not to enjoy something, and to enjoy one thing more than another. But to make essential value judgments about musicians, their intent, and how they go about their art, to me is distasteful.
Obviously, I don't agree with the above, otherwise I wouldn't be blogging. One of the things that I like about this medium is that it doesn't pretend to be about anything other than the blogger's personal tastes and prejudices. Many Old Media writers (especially jazz and classical critics) try to wield the authority of their publication like a cudgel. They make sweeping pronouncements in a stentorian tone like they have some kind of special insight into what is Great and True about Art. But studiously avoiding the use of the first person doesn't make their opinions any less subjective and personal. I'd like it if more critics were more explicit about where they are coming from.
I also think it's a good idea for everyone to talk openly about the stuff that's going on in our scene -- what we like about it and what we don't. Disagreement and controversy are good -- they are signs that people feel passionately about this music. Because our scene is so small and marginal, it's understandable that some people want to paper over the differences and project a united front to the world: "Everything is great! Every artist is great! Every show is great! Come check out how great everything is!" But I actually think that's counterproductive -- to an outsider, that kind of boosterism looks transparently insincere.
I'm not saying people should be mean-spirited. I'd hate for the comments in the jazz blogosphere to descend into pointless, reflexive snark, like the comments on some of the bigger indie rock blogs. But people should be free to say, "I didn't like it, and here's why" without everyone else bringing the house down on them.
Obviously, this becomes even trickier when you are yourself a struggling musician trying to establish yourself in a scene that you are also blogging about. It would be a lot safer for me to never say a critical word about a fellow artist, but then this blog would be incredibly boring and no one would read it. At the same time, I also have a direct and personal sense of how hard it is to just get out there and make your music happen. So I try to temper any criticism with a sense of perspective -- I'm not trying to make any Grand Pronouncements about anyone else's art. I'm just trying to express how I responded to it.
See also Pat Donaher on Zorn/Hadju, the Vision Fest, and related issues, and also Will Friedwald (NY Sun) for yet another take on the Friday night hit. And feel free to mix it up in the comments -- bring on the aesthetic fistfights!