“Did they spell your name right?” – Miles Davis
It is radically different these days reading an “album” review when you can actually listen to what is being reviewed at the same time. We take that ability for granted now. But this simply was not possible before the web came along and not generally the case as a new routine until streaming took hold. Bandcamp, one of the two most regularly used sites for the purpose, has only been around since 2007, Spotify, 2008.
What this radical difference means is that the reviewer’s responses can be scrutinised more closely. In a nutshell the reviewer becomes more fallible and more immediate. In print-only days mostly you were reading about an album that you had not yet managed to get hold of and might not for a while given the vagaries of physical distribution and where you happened to be living. Back then the words had more of an abstract quality given that the source was not usually to hand and certainly not playing as you read. The reviewer had more power and was more of an oracle, a tipsheet, a news source too sometimes. Now that power has crumbled as listeners can listen to pre-release tracks even on any number of websites via labels or often artist themselves “breaking” the track teasing their potential buyers and making most media play catch-up, reporting on their already public news. The artist has beaten the media at its own game.
There is a new democracy here which is very creative: we are better informed, more in touch with the artists as a first source particularly when they use the new media as a communication and distribution tool seizing the initiative. The bouncers at the gates have mainly been sent home: the public can be trusted to enter without fear or favour.
As jazz begins its journey towards its two hundredth year that gift of freedom which unless technology itself becomes a totalitarian edifice will be the one that keeps on giving.
Jazz that sounds modern and is not retro. Three wordy things there in a very short sentence: jazz (not a car by Honda or a type of cheese); modern (about now); retro (playing old jazz styles as they used to be). For now beyond definition just listen to drummer Nate Smith and Kinfolk: Postcards from Everywhere, jazz that sounds like 2017 unless you live in a potting shed and listen only to dixie on a wind-up radio. To my mind Postcards is modern and in the real world: a diverse assembling that sums up where the music is heading by embracing melody, rhythm, a range of hybrids, harnessing electricity as well as delving into the unplugged fabric of the sound, a little bit of vocalising and that popular spoken word element heard more and more even from Generation Xers (Smith is 42) to land upon family history and a personal story. This is not jazz as self consciously art or deliberately inaccessible nor does it indulge in chasing radio play by jazzifying pop but neither too does it cut itself off. Maybe the word I am searching for which is more important than whether it is modern, retro or not is original and yes Smith ticks that impossible box in creating one of the best jazz albums of 2017 so far because he knows how to blend a number of elements at the composing and arranging stage and in performance retains a warmth, while at the recording stage hardly becomes hidebound by genre or mood expectations. He also values song whether it is achieved by instrumental texture, band flow, or the voice itself. Now where were we? Jazz that sounds modern and is not retro. The album actually sounds like a completed fully furnished house and not as so often like a steel structure waiting for the next phase of construction and things to put in it.
Tracks: Intro: Wish You Were Here, Skip Step, Bounce pts I&II, Mom: Postcards from Detroit/Floyd/Salem, Retold, Disenchantment: The Weight, Spinning Down, Pages, From Here: Interlude, Morning and Allison, Spiracles, Small Moves: Interlude. Issuing label Ropeadope.
Personnel: Nate Smith, drums, percussion, fender rhodes, synths, sounds; Kris Bowers, piano, Fender Rhodes; Fima Ephron, electric bass; Jeremy Most, guitars; Jaleel Shaw, alto and soprano saxophones. And featuring Dave Holland, double bass on Skip Step and Spinning Down; Lionel Loueke, guitar on Skip Step and Spinning Down; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone on Bounce parts I + II; Gretchen Parlato, vocals on Pages; Michael Mayo, vocals, vocal percussion/effects on Skip Step and Retold; Amma Whatt, vocals on Disenchantment: The Weight and Morning and Allison; Adam Rogers, acoustic and electric guitars on Spiracles; Stephanie Matthews, violin I; Juliette Jones, violin II/contractor; Christiana Liberis, viola; and Reenat Pinchas, cello.