New jazz is pap, Miles is where it’s at

The Globe And Mail: Too easy on the ears. It’s no surprise to me that Diana Krall won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album last night. Next to Kenny G, her music has to be the most bland, inoffensive “jazz” (if you can call it that) on the market, and everyone loves it. As Duke Ellington said, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and new jazz just doesn’t have it.

You would never hear Diana Krall sing the original lyrics to Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”, complete with the reference to cocaine, or Ethel Waters’ “My Handy Man” or even Sonny Burke’s “Black Coffee”. Why? Because these tunes might actually offend someone. Heaven forfend! Jazz is about human experience, raw emotion, and sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s real. Jazz used to be about all those things, with politics, sexism, and racism sometimes thrown into the mix. That’s what made it contemporary and interesting, and it’s still interesting provided that you don’t listen to the bland pap that’s been churned out these past twenty years or so. Jazz needs to revisit its roots and rediscover the energy it lost.

Speaking of energy, I heard a track off of Miles Davis’ 1974 Carnegie Hall recording, Dark Magus, on the radio last week and felt that it was a necessary purchase. On a lark, I ventured up to Vortex Records at Yonge & Eglinton before heading home tonight and, miracles of miracles, it was there. Needless to say, I scooped it up, along with Nefertiti. The recording is very much like others I have from that time, ie. Pangaea, Agharta and Bitches Brew, but is even more frenetic and relentless in its assault of drums, wah-wah, and horns, if you can believe that. On a first listen, I think this one is right up there with On The Corner in terms of my favourite Miles Davis albums from the seventies.

One of these days I am going to sit down with my Miles Davis albums, my Herbie Hancock albums and my Miles Davis second quintet albums (which also feature Herbie Hancock) and write a series of posts comparing them. I’d also like to do the same with my Bill Laswell albums. That will never happen as it would encompass almost thirty albums and be way too much work.

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