Monday, July 4, 2011

Musicians' quotes: About the 'avant-garde'

What we understand as 'avant-garde' in jazz is a funny concept: it's a kind of music that's over 50 years old, so it is hardly new (although the devil is in the details, is today's avant-garde the same as 1960's?). Many listeners from the more mainstream persuasion have problems with a paradigm that is too alien for them, whereas their vanguardist counterparts can be as dogmatic in defending the music they like. As a general rule, I would distrust anyone telling you what music must be like, unless it's a musician talking about their own music.

So, what would be a healthy approach to the avant-garde from the more conventional side of things? Guitarist Russell Malone's response to a track by fellow six-stringer Mary Halvorson in a Before and After interview with Bill Milkowski for Jazz Times provides a few good leads.

... Mary Halvorson. I’ve seen her play. I kind of dig her, man. I went to go see her at a place called The Stone [in Manhattan] a couple of years ago, and it was a band with Chris Cheek on sax and a couple of other musicians. I’ll tell you, man, I know a lot of people who may not like this kind of music—free music or avant-garde or whatever you want to call it. But this stuff is hard to play. First of all, they’re not up there just playing a bunch of random stuff. It’s composed and these guys are good musicians who can read well. I know a lot of guys who, if you take them out of their comfort zone and put them in a situation where they have to play this kind of music, it probably wouldn’t come off as well. But I respect the musicianship here and I respect the music. This is good. She’s a good musician and she’s sincere. It’s just another way to hear. I mean, if everybody’s playing the same way and thinking the same way, then nobody’s really thinking.

This is Russell Malone playing "Caravan"...

... and this is Mary Halvorson playing "Dragon's Head"

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