Tuesday, October 23, 2018

SMOOTH JAZZ IS SMOTHERED JAZZ

300x292 PianoI dislike smooth jazz, which is not to say that I dislike jazz performed with smoothly executed technique that is in service to what the romantics of the world champion as "art making". A technique is an element any real artist worth a conversation with should have lest their boldest ideas and most expansive projects are called something akin to crass amateurism. Virtuosity is the means to the end; as I love difficulty of all sorts in the jazz I play in my domicile, it's nearly always a revelation that after some minutes I continually find myself forgetting the whole issue of how fast and accurate a musicians fingers are and listen in wonderment at the note selections set against difficult tempos in the course of an improvisation. That is what a great artist does, makes you forget the skill level, makes you forget the technique and brings you into the whole conception of bass, piano, drums, saxophone, the collectively spontaneous composition. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John  Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard,  et al are "smooth" in the utmost execution of their respectively impressive techniques, which means, for this grouch at least, that they can summon their best abilities at will and spontaneously compose harmonically, rhythmically and euphoniously nuanced improvisations upon a suitably provocative melody or composition. That inadequate sentence does not take into account what is now a substantial history of development in jazz, which has became much more than dance music, as all manner of mood, emotion, and states of being have found profound and exciting expression from the hands of various masters who've come along over the decades to forge new paths for the form. "Smooth jazz", as I mean it, is an Industry marketing term, a genre that strips elements of jazz, blues, funk, soul to the simplest technical components and proffers mid-tempo instrumentals that are melodically constricted; no strange chords or transitions, no thematic development. The solos, in turn, don't strike you as improvisations at all--to use a horrid clich√©-- every solo sounds like the one before it and the one coming after it. 'Smooth jazz", as I define it, is not about a command of one's technique, but how little of one's know-how a musician utilizes in search of sounds that are merely marketable. We have, in essence, another case where perfectly useful words are corrupted and meant to convey the contemptible instead. "Smooth" need hardly be synonymous with "mindless". I would quince my thirst for what's smooth in the Pat Metheny Group, who have interesting compositions, or good old Chet Baker, both in the tradition and an improviser with the best-muted trumpet tone this side of Miles.

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