Essays by Stuart Broomer, Brian Morton, and Bill Shoemaker about Musicians
Appearing at Jazz em Agosto 1984-2012
Publisher: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Portugal, www. musica.gulbenkian.pt/jazz
Becoming Knowledgeable about Jazz
Becoming knowledgeable about jazz is a sly proposition. You have to hear it, you have to hear a lot of it. Listening solely to recorded music doesn’t cut it. You have to hear it face to face with musicians blowing in your face. Concert halls are great, but the best places to for listening, hanging out, and trading stories about the music can be the local store-front or back-lane after-hours joints with under-the-counter beer and ‘dark’ coffee.
In many ways jazz is a convivial music. Jazz musicians are typically wide-open to casual conversation after gigs. Late-night road warriors need time and space to decompress, and hanging out in a club post-show is one way to do it. To become engaged in discussion with these erudites is one way an avid listener learns how completely humanitarian jazz is.
That very conviviality is reflected sumptuously in Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz written by Stuart Broomer, Brian Morton, and Bill Shoemaker. On more than one occasion the three professional essayists let readers slip into their porous environment when they say something like, “X once told me….” Then the essayist reveals not a only an anecdote but also insight into the extrasensory atmosphere in which the improvisers live. I’d lay odds that the “told me” was not done during a formal interview, but would have been sketched into the essayist’s mind while gazing out the window in the course of a cross-country train ride to the next gig in Berlin, or with a bottle of single malt on the table around two a.m. in a quiet bar in Lisbon, or in a hotel breakfast lounge in Tampere just before catching the eye of the waiter and saying, “May I have another croissant and an espresso?”
Face to face is one aspect of becoming really knowledgable, but you also have to read about it from the depository of knowledge. One simply cannot become proficient by only sitting at a gig, listening to recordings, or watching internet videos, and trading anecdotes. I’d wager that many older listeners developed their knowledge of reading liner notes from LP vinyl covers: who played what, when, with whom, and in what style.
Traditional Media Dying
It strikes me that in the past decade that sly proposition has become a slippery proposition, a lubricated negative grade. The treasured means of becoming knowledgeable are rapidly disappearing; they have as much flight potential as the dodo bird. The insane and short-sighted greed of the international financial crisis has politically corrupted Arts budgets for a long time now, and even northern European countries can no longer nonchalantly parade their hybrid jazz artists around the world. I live in Vancouver, Canada, and with the exception of the annual June Festival, the once formidable musical scene of Vancouver has shrunk in just a few years to the size of a university town like Missoula, Montana. Even the Derek Bailey inspired low-budget Meeting-style annual Time Flies series evanesced. The Vancouver scene is further denigrated by the closing of Cory Weed’s Jazz Cellar restaurant and even the pass-the-hat gigs at El Barrio restaurant no longer exist. Washington State’s wonderful on-line service, Jazzloft.com, has shuttered operations. Bad news piles on top of bad news, an art form besieged.
The minuscule packaging that came with CDs is fast vaporizing in favor of downloads which in turn has further savaged the art of writing liner notes, with notable exceptions like hard-core labels like Intakt, Mosaic, and Nuscope, and Songlines. The art of the jazz photograph has almost disappeared in tandem with the size of the CD music package. Downloads on Amazon and iTunes are designed for listening only, typically giving little more than a list of the musicians, or maybe a fawning promotional blurb by marketer Scott Yanow.
North-American jazz journals have their strong suite for presenting mini-reviews, promotional interviews, and advertising. Downbeat has staying power and the power of longevity on its side, with list of knowledgeable and well-seasoned writers. But for the most part the function of the magazines that have survived is not to present long-form essays of in-depth criticism and intellectual examination of the international art of jazz and improvisation. In 2004 there were three print journals in Canada dedicated to jazz, now there are none. No print journal in North America has taken the place of that solid bastion of jazz journalism, Coda Magazine (1958-2004).
Coda Magazine’s last knowledgeable editor was Stuart Broomer, who tried to maintain the journalistic integrity established by John Norris and Bill Smith. The firing of Broomer on Christmas Eve of 2004 by the new owner Warwick Press was one of those smoke signals that the times were a-changing’, negatively so. Warwick’s new editor actually asked some of its long-time collaborators (including me) to recommend pretty female singers for their cover photos. The publisher came out in print with a faux pas statement that in order to enhance newsstand sales, the magazine would no longer cover European “intellectual” jazz. That statement arrived just at the very time that people like Han Bennink, Misha Mengelberg, and Evan Parker were increasingly playing and appreciated in Canada and the USA, especially by grace of their regular appearances at Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
New Trends Consolidating
In contrast to these negative trends constraining self-education among the listening cohort, the ability to listen to the music at home has logarithmically increased due to the democratization and low cost of digital technologies. Just as musicians have found themselves selling in the digital domain, so the newest trend to enter the domain of jazz criticism is in the www realm. Willard Jenkin’s www.openskyjazz.com is one them. The erudite Point of Departure is edited by Bill Shoemaker, with Brian Morton and Stuart Broomer among the feature writers; the site also carries a regular feature, “The Book Cooks.”
Given the above-mentioned constraints, and the amazing explosion in new and re-issued recorded music, how can an avid listener become knowledgeable? The online journals are great for their paper permanence, but once off the retailer shelves they are essentially disappeared into subscriber’s libraries. It is unfathomable why the major jazz magazines have not digitized and put out their entire historical catalogs up for sale like the New Yorker Magazine has done. In my view, then, the best choice for proficiency resides in books. It can be books printed on paper, atomic structures amalgamated into lignin and knowledge carbonized into ink that can rest on a shelf. Or the books can be stored on a computer (tablet), easily accessed, leisurely read and re-read. The important point is to have accessible full work, all the time.
Just as one listens to then accepts or rejects CDs, one must also wade and filter through shelves in used bookstores to find the jazz literature that counts. The important jazz books are not to be found in the digital domain yet. It’s only hard work and a journey of discovery that leads one to the authors who actually can parlay their reservoirs of knowledge into coherent phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters as palpable as the music they write about. A recent trend in jazz book-writing are the re-edits of an academic thesis minus the obligatory chapters on epistemology, methodology, and ethics. These retreads can make for some dull reading, one exception being David Lee’s The Battle of the Five Spot.
Check the Bookstores
The next problem is how to know who the classic jazz writers are, like Mark Miller, Martin Williams, and Marshall Stearn. Whitney Balliett, the master of the short-form essay, covered the New York club and concert scene for many years: his Collected Works is indispensable for its insights into the seminal characters of jazz. For that matter how does one know that New Dutch Swing by Kevin Whitehead belongs on an essentials reading list? Or George Lewis’ “A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Try finding in a local bookstore the wonderful stream-of-consciousness novel by John Clellon Holmes, The Horn, with Johnny Hodges on the cover. Or Ellington’s mischievous Music is My Mistress. Bill Smith’s Imagine the Sound, with its wonderful photo of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage playing chess, is long out of print.
Randy Weston’s autobiography African Rhythms just might be the closest-to-the-bone story of jazz. Weston explores the African roots of the music, how the scourge of drugs infiltrated the Black American communities, surrealist tales of being a black soldier on the Pacific Islands during WWII, and the joys of the music’s spirituality. Stanley Crouch’s book Kansas City Lightening about the early life of Charlie Parker is a fascinating read about the social evolution of jazz, ending just on the tipping point into Be-Bop.
Enter: Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz
Jazz is an art that has never allowed itself to be buried alive. Through every period of economy-down, the winds of the jazz spirit have never ceased sporing the message of creativity. Musicians may have had to batten down the hatches when sails have been ripped from the masts by economic hurricanes, but the music itself has always sounded the chimes of freedom. But the question still remains: how to become knowledgeable about the most advanced forms of this music?
Enter a new book of wonderful import, Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz, in which veteran critics Broomer, Morton, and Shoemaker profile 46 musicians and four ensembles that have played at the annual Jazz em Agosto (Jazz in August) festival in Lisbon between its founding year of 1984 and 2012.
Arrivals/Departures is published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the sponsor of Jazz em Agosto. The essays are arranged not chronologically or in any presumed order of importance or genre, but alphabetically by name. It’s a sophisticated and democratic touch that avoids the kind of static categorization that can straitjacket the development of creative music into a linear mode rather than a four dimensional/spiritual motif of development. The table of contents starts with Muhal Richard Abrams, somewhere in mid-range is Orkestrova Electric Ascension, and it ends on John Zorn. Lest anyone think that its slant is American, the essays also include multiple Europeans, such as Joëlle Léandre, Irène Schweizer, and Alexander von Schlippenbach.
Jazz em Agosto is an eclectic celebration with little condescension to trendy stuff like the cost-cutting summer parade-formation of touring groups. Sliding the eyes through the year-to-year program at the end of the book reveals an abundance of musicians who have been on the creative long-haul for decades. Narrowing that list down to fifty exemplars must have required some intensive debate but the vast majority of profiled musicians are veterans who have made mega-contributions to the development of the music.
Each essay also contains a short list of recommended recordings and the album/cd covers, photography of the artist when they played at the festival, and an example of the poster for that year’s concerts. At the end of the book, there is a chronological list of every group, containing the name of each musician in the group, and ordered by the date/time that they played. The Colophon and Credits include the author of each essay, the Gulbenkian Música Jazz em Agosto staff including long-time genius Artistic Director Rui Neves, photographer and poster design credits.
Reading this volume can send even the most assiduous of collectors scurrying to gems forgotten, perhaps Tim Bernes’ Snake Oil. The essays reminded me of the hugeness of jazz, its mesmerizing complexity and appeal, how little I know, and how much was buried in the echoes of my mind. For people who are new to the music or even those who have only a casual interest, the book is an advanced primer on the scope of modern jazz music.
What makes this volume special is the quality of writing. Again and again the narratives weave stories that draw a reader directly into the fabric of the music by stating, not just the facts, ma’am, but reveal the emotional sinuosity, the historic context, importance of the music, and in some cases the technical requisites that make the music sound as it does. The essayists reveal an open door into what the music does, a jazz literature that takes you on a journey through compound layers of parable, parallel worlds, incisive detail, tapestries that are much like the way that Evan Parker, for example, differentiates harmonics during his extended circular breathing improvisations.
Consider Brian Morton’s essay on Max Roach. “Incised” is the opening word. Deliberate and portentous, the incision refers to ten words from a Sonia Sanchez haiku embellishing Roach’s grave. In one paragraph with Swiftian analogy as its core, Morton reminds the reader that Roach is one of the semi-forgotten who should not have been so. Roach, mostly remembered for his association with be-bop, trembled and reformulated jazz meter. Morton stokes the inner fire of Max Roach, knowledgeably emphasizing that Roach was an intellectual whose heart flamed with the passion of all things just, social, rhythmical, and improvisational. Morton’s one opening paragraph contains enough explosive power to send one to listening to the We Insist! Freedom Now Suite or his Historic Concerts (with Cecil Taylor). That one paragraph could have been the entire essay.
Then begins the biography, giving intriguing detail of his many early musical assocIations, including the loss Brown. Morton makes the accurate observation that Roach “provided strong evidence for the sometimes vaporous conviction that jazz was not European or American in origin but had its ancestry in the percussion ensembles of sub-Saharan Africa”. This idea of a “sometimes vaporous conviction” is a challenging observation, an intoxicating point of view that requires thinking hard and long beyond the assumptions of jazz being mainly a birthed on the soil of the United States.
Morton ends his essay by inverting his initial paragraph, generalizing on the space-time continuum by summoning the spirits of the ancestors, including “a ghostly huddle of anonymous village drummers”, a statement that the “the drums fell silent for a time on August 16, 2007 but their resonance still echoes and spreads” and then a final haiku. Head, theme, development, coda. Morton’s essay sounds and reads like a structured improvisation, an homage.
Then look into this passage on Misha Mengelberg and gaze with astonishment: “He is certainly the most playful of the major European improvisers, not just in his sardonic self presentation but in the openly ludic quality of the music itself. He is perhaps a European version of the trickster figure, a shape shifter who pretends to slowness in seriousness, a quiet man given to explosive outbursts of sound, and intense improviser who, like his sometimes associate Peter Brötzmann, is also capable of the most delicate lyricism, as if picked at random in a chaotic meadow of sound, or from a street corner at which bombs once fell.” Imagine that!
Broomer’s essay on Marilyn Crispell opens with black and white photo by Joaquim Mendes. The shades of black are deep, rare for a concert photo. But then Europe’s jazz lighting style is designed to illuminate people naturally, not in the garish reds and greens of North American rock-style lighting. What is more unusual is that Mendes captures Crispell from the bass-end of the piano, not the stereotyped upward angle from the edge of the stage. From the back stage, the photographer can stand shooting slightly downward with getting in the way of the audience. It’s oh so more natural, but rarely done. Mendes captures her face looking not at the keyboard but at the chart, her hands interlocked at the base end of the keyboard. Photographing Crispell’s hands in unusual positions is not the difficult part: Crispell typically lets her hair hanging over her face while playing, which renders even the best photos null and void. Mendes, patient like the nature photographer waiting for correct angle of the evening sun, nailed a classic portrait of Crispell at the grand piano.
Broomer is also a straight shooter. In this book, that linearity is a biographical approach capturing chronological progression, including the dates any particular artist appeared at Jazz em Agosto and who they played with. That approach is easy enough for any competent writer, including the too common contemporary writers whose stock talent is the replication of press releases. The Broomer method of attack roughs out the structure of the article, which the detailed and insightful analysis then can drape nicely from the form. Like Morton and Shoemaker, Broomer has been at the craft for a long time. When you’ve been at it for a long time, depending on proclivities and if you’re any good at it, a writer can then speculate on where and how the music has been influenced.
Speculation means exactly that, because the art of creating composition does not necessarily come about from specific references, like the curvilinear trombones in “The Song of the High Seas” (Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett) from the ancient TV series Victory at Sea, or something non-specific like a Miles Davis’ “No Blues.” Music doesn’t have to be directly about something, but no musician exists who has not learned what has been done before. Creative musicians exist by definition in an atmosphere of intellectualism, a vibratory world filled with historical knowledge, ancient wisdom, and current events.
Consider Broomer’s essay on Orkestrova Electric Ascension. Broomer doesn’t tell the readers who Orkestrova is until far into the essay and that vagary is not presumptuous. Whether or not readers know Orkestrova is immaterial, since they wouldn’t be reading this book if they didn’t know that John Coltrane’s Ascension is one of the great compositions of music from any period of time.
There are two parts to Broomer’s essay, the source recording and how Orkestrova created a brilliant and constantly evolving electronics-driven version. Broomer cites that religious ascensions belong not only in the Christian catechism but is also an essential of the Holy Koran.
Is easy to accept Broomer’s point that the composition relates to the spiritual, especially since the opening “five-note motif adds a single note to the four-note theme of Acknowledgement, a direct link to A Love Supreme.” This analysis is one of those exciting little tapas, a tiny chunk of verity for becoming knowledgeable about jazz. Who’d a thunk that a single note cold differentiate love from ascension, but also be a continuity between the two?
Having discussed the obvious, Broomer sets the scene for some tempting historic speculation, one that starts with a keen observation on the wailing and thunder of Ascension, “Is it a song of liberation, of bonds unloosed? Of torment?” He cites Evan Parker alluding to a slaving ship called Ascension (during a lecture on Coltrane at Jazz em Agosto). Broomer’s further research, cited in a footnote, reveals that the slaver had been the place of a 1794 unsuccessful slave insurrection. His speculation: could Coltrane’s Ascension have been inspired by that act in 1794 and given modern impulse by the transition from form-bound music into the realm of improvisation as defined by the Black Freedom movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s?
Orkestrova Electric Ascension is the ROVA Saxophone Quartet expanded, ROVA being the acronym for Jon Raskin, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and Bruce Ackley (the ‘V’ is a holdover from a former member). As one of the longer standing contemporary bands in creative music, it’s repertoire one of constant changing amplitude. The ensemble work for Ascension began with an acoustic performance, and in 2003 the first of the Electric Ascension ensembles started touring. For the 2006 Lisbon concert there were thirteen musicians. Broomer calls the shots this way: “While the cataclysmic saxophone course remain[s] at its heart, the ritualized pattern of solo with rhythm has been broken, traded for a series of determined textures, sub-groupings that while set, proceed with tremendous freedom, changing the constituent musical languages.” With ROVA’s powerful amplification of Coltrane’s original concept, Broomer also tells us there are moments of “exploratory electronic tranquility” and later, “Even the saxophones are permitted moments of lyric effusion.”
Reference to lyricism is one of Boomer’s favored devices and it goes far in his essay on Crispell. The essential biographical aspects are there, her work with Mark Dresser and Gerry Hemingway in the Anthony Braxton Quartet, with Paul Motian and Gary Peacock, with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, and with Joëlle Léandre, Urs Leimgruber and Fritz Hauser. But it is Broomer’s insight into several qualities of Crispell’s playing that shines between the lines. Try this for getting to the essence: “Crispell’s work [on the CD Amaryllis] is invested with brooding depth and a transforming luminosity.” An abstract statement, read into what you like, but a statement that probes to heart of Crispell’s manifestations of heart-felt emotion palpable. Or one could try Broomer is opening paragraph, “Marilyn Crispell has a mercurial musical sensibility, her performance is alive with the unexpected, whether she’s finding new degrees of quiet intensity, taking off on certain exploratory flight, or interrogating a fellow improviser’s phrase for further meanings.”
Which means that while Crispell has her own clearly identifiable voice, she also works as an elite musician with other unique musicians precisely because she has the ability and the musical need to absorb, project herself into, and enhance what others are playing. Broomer himself has some of the Crispell pianistic touch in his own writing. His research, once he has covered the basics of what the musician has been formed by, then proceeds to scrutinize who the performer is. He probably was not consciously describing himself when he describes Marilynn Crispell’s musical signature of as “part attack, part timing, and part voicings”, but his writing signature does follow that description, making it distinctive as Crispell’s sound, his portrayal of musicians like ROVA and Crispell uncovering the essence of what it takes to become knowledgeable about jazz.
Bill Shoemaker has this way of slipping sly, logical, unexpected, and ultimately sophisticated American humor into his essays. In his think-piece on drummer Han Bennink, Shoemaker writes about a group that Bennink was a member of, the Clusone 3. Try this one on for size: “The cover photo for Rara Avis, a ‘97 album of songs named after birds – an aviary spanning “Baltimore Oriole” to the Peruvian “El Condor Pasa” – freezes the gag near the punchline: Bennink has a huge sheet draped over him and the traps; [cellist] Reijseger’s bow lifts the end of the sheet, allowing him to peek from a safe distance. Though he is not in the shot, it can be safely assumed that Moore was deadpan.”
Who is the missing Moore? One absolutely has to be knowledgeable about jazz, and especially European jazz and possibly have regularly attend the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, to know that he is Michael, the cool-tempered and understated clarinetist, alto and bass saxophonist, the man whose tone and demeanor are as seductive as was Johnny Hodges’. Moore is the ultimate foil to the zany Bennink, even to the point of a visual blandishment. It could even be the unseen Moore who is under the white sheet, especially since Bennink can often be found not at the drum chair but rhythm-a-ninging high on the steps of a ladder he has hauled from back-stage.
Note the expression “freezes the gag near the punchline.” It’s not just that Shoemaker knows what assumptions to suss out of a photo (the album cover is reprinted on page 27). His writing is tantalizing, leaving the reader at times with essential but incomplete information, the kind to stop you in your tracks with an uncommon word like “deadpan.” This is the kind of writing that is designed to leave the sophomore keening to find out more and the senior nodding his head bemusedly.
In his essay on Steve Lacy, Shoemaker starts not with the man, but with the instrument and its jazz lineage from the first important player. Note that Shoemaker does not reference the third musician in the lineage, the one who it is alleged started playing the seriously after he heard the control and contemporary creativity that Lacy brought it.
Here is what Shoemaker says: “The soprano saxophone is among the hardest of all wind instruments to play in tune. The embouchure required to play on pitch in the lowest octave will not work in the middle register, and the adjustments made for the midrange require additional tweaking for the horn’s high-end. There are very few ways to work around the problem: Sidney Bechet used a stunningly wide vibrato, which masked his near misses, but most saxophonists skirt the problem using an anemic oboe-like sound. Steve Lacy is one of the very few musicians to wrest a robust saxophone sound from the contrary straight horn.” Check and double-check that phrase “contrary straight horn”: there’s nothing linear about articulating the instrument and a taut three word phrase does as much for the subject as ten pages of quantum mathematics.
Lacy was most compleat of musicians not only in the sense of mastering the horn, but in the Ellingtonian sense. Hard times usually kept him working in compact trio and quartet formats, the epitome of the road warrior with endless road trips. He was a wizard of the solo format, but he could also formulate the most arcane long forms played by large groups, like the conducted ensemble recorded in concert as Steve Lacy + 16 Itinerary (hatART CD 6079).
Lacy had a way and a fascination with words and that goes a long way to explain his ballsy collaborations with writers. Shoemaker tells the story of Lacy putting music to the the poetry of Bangladeshi Taslima Nasrin in a Jazz Opera called The Cry. Nasrin was put under a bogus fatwah by religious fanatics for her stark poetic descriptions of the women’s’ fate. When performed in Paris the poet read from within a bullet-proof cage and Lacy was also threatened with violence. He went ahead anyway and performed The Cry internationally, including at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. When I asked Lacy if was afraid of the situation, he just gave one of his insider smiles. He had obviously thought deeply about the issue and said, “The music finds its own way. The words are are important and must be sung.” Shoemaker ends his essay with a well-known lacy-ism: “This is highfalutin’ material, It’s not for everybody.” That’s Lacy for sure: shooting straight as his horn, gruff and vernacular, expressing the truth through sophisticated witticism.
No matter how Lacy expressed his music, he had an inner clock that made his compositions swing, no accident since he started his career with a dixieland feel. Equally, anyone who is familiar with the pre-bebop period knows the Count Basie composition “Corner Pocket.” Jazz has always had its attraction for its sense of time that brings freedom from the geometry of the metronome. Think of jazz as a pool table, a meticulously-balanced rectilinear flat plane with six pockets, four of which are corner pockets. Breaking the original triangle of 15 balls by the straight cue stick leads to a semi-random spacial relation among the balls, defined partly by the skill of player. For the difficult strokes, an intuitive, experience-based knowledge is required to put the correct spin (“english”) on a ball to play it through sharp angles into the pocket.
The possibilities are endless and depend on the skill-set and imagination of the player. Enter Joëlle Léandre, whose music-making is dense, free, and elastic. Because of these qualities, assaying Joëlle Léandre’s music is ‘arguably’ the most difficult topic in all of Arrivals/Departures. I don’t know if Shoemaker’s current fascination with the American pool table predates this essay, but the english he puts on its structure illuminates the almost unknowable and even the brilliant corners to which Léandre articulates the music.
Here is how he starts the essay: “The inclusion of Joëlle Léandre in this volume is a measure of the flexibility with which the term “jazz” is now used. You don’t have to be a neo-conservative to point out the bassist’s lack of jazz bona fides; and she would concur that her evolution from playing in orchestras to, first, being a specialist in the music of John Cage and Giacinto Scelsi, and, subsequently, a free improviser has little to nothing to do with jazz in the main.” Now, that is one killer of a complex paragraph, puts the eight ball snugly in the corner pocket.
Further, Shoemaker states, “There is the palpable sense that Leandre starts with a blank slate for every performance, that she finds form in real time, and that whatever beauty she may create, it is a one-time occurrence, never to be replicated….. Leandre’s artistic evolution cannot be neatly divided in periods the way that, say, John Coltrane’s can.”
To explore the validity of that statement, I went back to a recording of Léandre with Fritz Hauser and Urs Leimgruber at the 2009 Vancouver International Jazz Festival, concentrating on one of her solo pieces (not the one posted on you-tube). Léandre’s music struck me as a primeval force, like some ancient cosmological progenitor of a natural order. The music flashed with the intense, dazzling, and ultra-colorful pulses of the aurora borealis. Like the aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn), each passage was multi-layered, and while there were patterns, there was little to no repetition. In fact I would go much further and say there was a definitive structure, a lightly-touched beginning and end with a complex solar wind in between. While I heard protons and muons colliding with the upper atmosphere, Shoemaker states she creates a “broad spectrum of otherworldly textures she creates with the bow.” He states that her pizzicato is equally powerful, “with the attack and drive commonly associated with Charles Mingus, but without the idiomatic orientation.” It takes an extraordinarily perceptive mind, one knowledgeable of jazz history to makes such historical linkages between two musicians of powerful mien. I also cannot think of a finer trio of writers like Shoemaker, Morton, and Broomer to consistently make such fine-edged critique throughout Arrivals/Departures.
As outlined above, Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz is a dense work. On four counts, however, it is incomplete. Count one: there is no essay on the Gulbenkian itself, how and why such a prestigious Institute could formulate and present a consistently high-caliber festival over such a long course of time. Try this for context and comparison: in the USA does the Smithsonian Institution sponsor an annual festival of advanced music? The point is that the Gulbenkian is special, and an essay explaining this idiosyncratic quality would have gone a long way to explain the context of this book.
The Gulbenkian Institute is surrounded by a stone wall, containing within research institutes, libraries, paintings, and forested pathways designed for contemplation. There is an outdoor amphitheater complete with rings of stone seats. The concert artists dramatically arise out of an unseen tunnel to walk across a large swath of grass before arriving at their places on stage. The indoor concert hall has wonderful acoustics. None of which qualities are sussed out in a contextual essay. That stone wall could have used an opening door essay to reveal what lies within, to let the parts of the world (namely, North America) know about the splendor of the Gulbenkian .
Count two: Every festival needs an Artistic Director with clairvoyant vision. Jazz em Agosto Artistic Director Rui Neves is such a virtuoso. An essay by Neves or about him by one of the trio of essay writers would have revealed some of the secrets of his artistic vision, the imagination that holds the enterprise together and passes from success to success. The world could use some explanation of the curatorial processes for events like Jazz em Agosto. Instead, Arrivals/Departures implies that artistic vision only by the chronology and the selection of profiled musicians. The lack of such an essay is a missed opportunity.
Count three: the distribution of this Arrivals/Departures is limited. It appears to be available only through the Gulbenkian, and even then it is hard to find ordering information on the Gulbenkian website. The distribution method appears to be somewhat academic in nature, not for the general jazz audience through bookstores and on-line outlets (Amazon would be an obvious distribution target for North America, and this company also has branches in Europe). This is another missed opportunity for the huge numbers of people who have increasingly limited means of becoming truly knowledgeable about jazz. The down and out of these three counts is a loss to the Gulbenkian itself, to the curatorial community, to the musical community (think publicity and economic benefits) and to the broad general audience of music lovers.
Count four: In an incredible under-sight, a faux pas, Broomer-Morton-Shoemaker are not listed as co-authors in the book cover, nor at the head of each essay. Instead, diminuendo, the capital letters of each author are listed at the each essay: “S.B”, “B.M”, “B.M.” with the exception of an introduction to jazz by Broomer at the beginning of the book. Only on page 239, “Colophon and Credits”, are listed the names of each author and the essays they wrote.
Another critique: the selection process must have been arduous, but Randy Weston is the most prominent among the missing in action. As the most important living jazz artist and epitome of the lineage that Brian Morton refers to as originating in the ancient sub-Sahara, I would assert that he was a natural for the A-list.
Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz is a one-volume answer to a crisis in the jazz literature. It brings the reader the essence of the mighty changes in the music that have happened over the three decades plus. Even the most astute aficionados will increase their chops by reading Arrivals/Departures. It is a classic in jazz literature. My recommendation is get Arrivals/Departures – New Horizons in Jazz while you can, for who knows how long the print run will last? The book is an indispensable guide to understanding the state of the jazz art, its writing meeting the highest possible standards of jazz and arts literature and criticism.