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Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Comment on the Black Swan Jam Session - Dec. 10

(By G.Fernanduez)

I love jazz, live performances and jam sessions. I've seen many and had the chance to report on festivals and concerts before. It's not the first time I’ve happened to be at the same event as BSH reviewer Russell and this time, as it's the end of the year, I thought I'll allow myself the freedom to pass on my own opinions.

When considering last night’s event, it raised the question; what is a review? What makes a critique? Is it simply a description, an itinerary of people who turned up and the songs they played, or is it something more? Does it itself help to shape the context, reach and influence of the event?

For me personally, and taking from the reviews of many others, it is a statement about your connection to the moment - a story which provides insight into the feelings which were aroused and the interactions and dynamics of the performances. All mixed with just a touch of one's own personality.

For sure it is absolutely good that somebody takes the initiative to write when they regularly attend, but to what purpose if it provides only a mostly facile summary without giving a real taste of just exactly what went down.

I fear that there is a little more insight required and expected of the critic - who has not only the authority to honestly bring to account the performance of those who may not have hit the mark that night, but also a duty of care to those who lay themselves down on the stage in the pursuit of providing entertainment and revealing humanity - particularly at a jam where the atmosphere is free and easy.

Some deeper layers of writing and more reflection overall on the emotions seeded by the music, be it a live performance or a recorded CD. Some more analysis of communication between musicians, and a slightly less self-centred approach fixated on only the experience of the reviewer. When a reviewer has lived this life he is able to draw on the cultural ideas evoked by a performance, on the links between this event and the wider world. To preserve and to celebrate our local musical culture we must situate it in the context of these grander ideals and entities - this enriches the interpretation of the reader and invites those unfamiliar with our world. Such colour and depth will also be beneficial to those who have perhaps enjoyed the night a little too much, just as I am guilty of doing so myself one or two times.

As mentioned before - I was in attendance at the jam yesterday - and I would like to ask why the author of the review does not discuss the ways in the music makes him feel? Which tune did he like the most? We can guess which musicians Russell has favoured through the language he uses and the amount of space devoted to them but we cannot hear and feel the music - it is also about the music!

For myself the absolute highlight of this special last gathering of jamming jazz musicians before Christmas was Desifinado, led by a duo of saxophonists. The warmth and communication between them was brilliant. The dialogue in the sounds of music between an older and younger generation and the beautiful harmonies they've created together. Truly incredible was the musical insight and distinctive ability which was woven through the harmonies of this bossa nova by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It was fascinating in its own right, but also seemed to inspire and catalyse many more musicians throughout the night, lending confidence to others to explore, to improvise and diversify.

Let's hear more about the journey of the audience & performers experiencing this gig, so that the critic's passage serves to entice a potentially unknown audience not yet in attendance. Let us paint a picture of how these notes and sounds and personalities shape the evening.

For me music, and in particular this most beautiful genre of jazz, is about a unique moment in space and time. Let us acknowledge the sincerity with which these performers stand up, with the courage to perform not only to their friends and family but to strangers, passers-by interested in the sounds emanating from the bar and, of course, to the critic.


SteveT said...

No pressure then.

Anonymous said...

It was a canny gig!

Unknown said...

For me the highlight was desifinado a beautiful Jobim score played by the very talented Nick Gould and Harry Keeble,I told Nick there is nothing more beautiful and romantic than a number by Jobim coming out of a sax, Nick told me, he would love to play Jobim all night, I can not wait!

Brian Shine

JERRY said...

As BSH’s resident “jazznoramus” I am probably more guilty than most of the other regulars when it comes to “uncritical” reviews. To date I have written upwards of 90 and I would apologise for none of them – jazz needs all the publicity it can get in order to encourage performers and “entice” a new audience. It is not so much a matter of “grander ideals” as survival, in my opinion! With that in mind, I write “reviews” for the following reasons: to acknowledge those who promote and organise gigs; to publicise the existence of venues; to acknowledge the variety of jazz available in our region; to acknowledge the musicians, especially our talented young locals by means of a “name-check” in print and above all, to give as much praise as I feel is justified to all and sundry. Negative comments almost never feature because I lack the critical vocabulary and musical knowledge needed to ensure that they are relevant and constructive, as opposed to off-putting. It would be arrogant of me to criticise musicians. If I go to a gig I do not enjoy, I will not write about it. There have been very few such gigs!
I hope my “reviews” are at least one notch above: “it was a canny gig” and do a little bit to “preserve and to celebrate our local musical culture”. My 90+ “reviews” were all gigs which would otherwise have passed without comment. The “courage” of performers, promoters, organisers would not have been “acknowledged” at all and so many opportunities to flag up what is out there would have been missed. Personally, I feel “no pressure” about further scribblings at any future events which would otherwise slip under the radar. I’ll never make it as a “critic” – I support Sunderland for goodness sake – but I believe that by telling others what I have liked (often loved) about a gig, an act or a venue they might come along next time.
If I am insufficiently “critical” all I’d say to those more knowledgeable than myself is this: please come to more gigs and please write about them all. BSH readers, I’m sure, would welcome the input.

Lance said...

This is one of those eternal questions - should a non-musician, or even a mediocre musician review a performance by one who does/or does do it better than you? To offer negative criticism prompts the performer to say, "Ok, smart arse, get up and let's see what you can do!" Which, of course, he can't otherwise he'd be on stage himself.

The old adage springs to mind - Those that do, do, those that don't, teach, and those that do neither, do crits. This simplifies things but doesn't actually work although it may have done years ago.

The whole point is that, well meant as criticism is, the layman observer never knows the reasons why a player is having an off-day. For a sax player it could be a duff reed or a new reed that hasn't been blown in. A brass player may have missed a couple of days practice, a pianist on a strange piano, a drummer on a strange kit, a singer in the wrong key. The possibilities are many and that's not taking into consideration, hangovers, broken romances, indigestion or the "Do I really want to play 'All the Things You Are' again?" syndrome.

So, if you feel a player hasn't lived up to expectations, ask about it don't gloss over it but, with his/her permission tell us what went wrong. In the meantime, let's promote the good and, if it's within our perception, offer insight into the feelings which were aroused and the interactions and dynamics of the performances.

Steve T said...

Music does not belong to composers and musicians any more than buildings belong to architects and builders. Listeners are entertained, educated, moved, disappointed or whatever, and without us, musicians are merely navel gazing.

Hugh said...

Interesting comments, all. As an occasional reviewer, perhaps musical, but not a musician, I feel as entitled to write reviews of CDs or live music as anyone else. I have declined to review CDs I have disliked or do not consider appropriate for review on on BSH. All reviews, of course are subject to editorial scrutiny before publication.

Steve T said...

So it's your fault Lance.

Lance said...

It usually is [my fault]. Getting back to your earlier post re musicians being without listeners merely navel gazing - A tree falling in an uninhabited forest etc.. brought to mind Sonny Rollins practising on that bridge - was he really playing nonstop or only when some nightowl happened to fly by?

Steve T said...

If there was nobody there to hear it, did it make a sound?

Nick Gould said...

I come down to the jam session at the Black Swan when I can and always enjoy the experience. I have always enjoyed playing at jam sessions where you really have no idea what will happen or who will be with you in the group.

Jam sessions from my perspective are about trying to make good music as a team and give each person the opportunity to express themselves.

I have made some new friends through doing this over the last few years, it has led to some opportunity too which I am grateful for.

Lance and Russell are tireless in their reviews and a big part of the success of this, I always read the reviews to see who has been playing and what tunes.

Thanks and I am touched by the comments about Desafinado, it was a real pleasure to play that tune with Harry and the rest of the group.

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