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Pleasures of recollection… and anticipation

June 16, 2009

This blog is for archiving my impressions of the year’s live shows. But a lull prompts a reflection on shows before and after. Sure, jazz is improvised (we hope), in the moment, and therefore ephemeral – in a good way. But a good gig stays in the mind to some extent, and some exist in the mind ahead of time.

One example of each just now. One of 2008’s finest evenings was the Gary Burton Quartet way down in Poole (definitely not a place to visit without a very good reason – this was). Tremendous band (Metheny, Swallow, Sanchez), superb songs, brilliant playing throughout. I have a souvenir in a brief review I wrote for Jazzwise, and a poor quality MP3 of a concert elsewhere off some blog. But the new live CD of the quartet is better than either. Captured at Yoshi’s in the US the year before, it confirms that none of the members have ever played better. There’s something rather wonderful about hearing Burton, Swallow and Metheny playing together after three decades, and they seem to think so too. Playing a recording is not as immediately enthralling as hearing the band in person. But it does allow what the concert did not: replay while focussing on each player in turn, or on particular bits. When there is this much going on, there is so much information to process that a lot gets missed. I find I can only concentrate well enough for about half an hour, and it was a long evening…   so all in all great to have a digital impression of the band.

In the end, of course, the recording becomes one’s memory of the gig. Oddest example of that for me was the great recording of Stan Tracey’s quartet with Art Themen on Captain Adventure. I’ve listened to that scores of times, know every note, remember the 100 Club pretty well in the 1970s (this was ’78) and generally got a big kick out of feeling “I was there” each time I heard the old vinyl set. Then there was a CD a couple of years ago, and damn me if it didn’t include another hour’s music – just as good – of which I have no recollection at all from the actual gig. Well, it was 30 years ago…

Coming up is the Ornette Coleman fest in London this week. Coleman and his cohorts have probably given me more musical pleasure than anyone else over the years, so this is keenly anticipated, to say the least. Also feeling pleased that we chose the two nights at the end, learning later that Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra this Saturday will feature O. Coleman as a guest, and that Haden is joining Coleman’s group to revisit This is Our Music on Sunday. Hearing them play together 50 years on is even more intriguing.

It does raise a slight worry though. Both are capable of making music of genius, and often have. I’ve also seen both on off nights, when they sounded diffident (Haden) or even a bit dull (Coleman). Can these evenings possibly live up to expectation?  Not really. What I really want, I suppose, is to have been around to have heard them in 1959/1960…   Only recordings can do that. But still looking forward immensely to hearing what they do come up with on the night.

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