Monday, August 29, 2011

a confession

... perhaps a belated one... i'm probably not the best judge...

the blog was contacted recently - well, i was personally really - by a youngish (i think) bassist going by the moniker mars will send no more. i'm guessing that someone had told him about the conference entry from all that time ago... back in the blog's second rush of blood... and that he had hopped over specifically to check it out. in any case, i responded (as i always do and will, unless it's just anonymous abuse) to some of his points and discreetly left others unanswered * - anyone who is interested can of course read it all for themselves (if they haven't done so by the time they finish this sentence!). but the main reason i have returned to this matter in post form - having told mars... that i was disinclined to say any more about the whole business of conference in particular - is that i directed him to the quartet autopsy for evidence of my more measured, explicated and even-handed take on the "holland question" (i am more than usually happy with that piece btw)... and when i subsequently re-read the article myself the following day, i found myself thinking that maybe my correspondent had already read it; and that at any rate, if he hadn't and then proceeded to do so he would not be much reassured, would indeed probably fail to finish it (or even get very far through it perhaps) - which would be a shame, since the (very) good things i had to say about mr holland's abilities were mainly reserved for the last section (so as to go out on a good note, as it were).

so apparently again i find i am not finished with this. that needn't be so surprising either since i have never withdrawn the "go (directly!) to hell" warning from the blog sidebar - though until recently it had been a long time since anyone bothered to try and give me a hard time about "it"; several times i have thought about removing that superfluous and rather belligerent remark, and have always decided not to (again just this week). there is something about the fact that a (rather halfhearted, certainly informal) "review" that has been considered so far beyond the pale by some people should nevertheless be regarded as the best one published, by one of the four players who participated in said recording * - it brings out something in me that is not necessarily that likeable, but it's not on display very often in these parts and there may as well be an acknowledgement that it's there.

i digress... the other thing that struck me the day after i responded to the recent comment, was an old twinge of guilt or remorse or perhaps just embarrassment: as if on some astral plane i had found myself just then bumping into mr holland in person and having to introduce myself... would i not feel the compulsion to apologise, first? yes, i would for sure, though it would probably be accompanied with a laugh... after all, i can't very well take any of it back, nor would i wish to (none of it was intended personally anyway of course)... but yes, i would feel that way; and if it turned out he had read any of various blog entries himself, not to mention that one, i am honest enough to imagine that the apology might force itself out before i could even stop it. now, i am not necessarily very likely to run into dave holland in real life (though who knows... who knows) - so, and not without a great deal of preamble of course, here goes: mr holland, i am sorry if i have caused undue offence to you through the candid and at times rather irreverent way in which i have assessed your contribution(s) to mr braxton's music, or to music in general. it was not intended to be insulting, ever; but (of course) i was always aware that it could be received that way if you happened to find your way in here. after a long time of not properly facing up to that, i did feel that an apology was in order.

now... one apology was in order, and that was it. to those who have taken up "arms" on mr holland's behalf, since by now they may be awaiting their turn: much as i can sympathise with your motivations (and i can - i too have felt the need to defend someone else's reputation on occasions, including musicians living and dead), i don't feel the need to apologise to you guys and i'm not going to. (*) you just have to take it... that's how it goes... console yourselves with the knowledge that the devastating triumphs you have already enjoyed over me in your heads are as good as it gets in that regard; if we met in the flesh and you had your chance, it wouldn't go anything like the way you imagined it; that's not me puffing my chest out either, it's just... the way it goes.


ok, so... that longish gap between posts has finally been closed... the most likely next few posts are: one dealing with - or occasioned by - two of b's duo concerts with evan parker (or maybe the only two, i don't know); "student studies 3" which gathers up observations on some of the interviews with b. included as appendices in the composition notes; and then, haha, and then the frigging braxtothon which still somehow feels as if it's just round the corner but, like tomorrow, never comes... it will come, unlike tomorrow... but in any case the other posts and "postettes" variously promised or at least dangled under the reader's nose this year are not likely to be written any time just yet, which is not to say that they'll never turn up... keep checking in, you never know...

... there will also be a little "bonus post" in a couple of days, for once nothing (directly) to do with anthony braxton..!

* see first comment

* see second comment

* see third comment


centrifuge said...

ok... the comment from my bass-playing correspondent contained several points which i COULD have rebutted - and doubtless in previous years i would have done exactly that, but i'm perhaps starting to get a bit more diplomatic in my "old age" (lest anyone scoff at that, note that i did say "a bit" -!). at the time, i just didn't make any reply to those bits. after this rethink, though... there is more to say here, but i'm putting it tactfully in a comment (which i presume most people won't read) rather than leaving it up on the blog front page like a slap in the face.

the points in question are all in mars...' first para: the stuff in the third para about b's music is, i'm afraid, not worth answering at all imo (except insofar as i answered it at the time). if it was intended to have any cogency as an argument... it doesn't, and anyone who wishes to engage me in debate as such will have to try a bit harder than that. (i think most people know this by now.) however, although the points in the first para are all easy enough to counter, they are at least worth countering - well, that's how i feel about it, perhaps because this is the sort of thing which helps to practise my own faculty of (self-taught) musical analysis. in an ideal world i would let someone else say it for me, but as it is... i am constantly aware of having marginalised myself here and thus can't (and don't) expect much in the way of comment - so, like the little red hen, i shall do it myself :)

the other thing is that the tone of mars...' original comment is in itself begging for riposte, since he plays the "speaking as a musician" card in such a way as to imply that he understands the music to a degree that i never can: i beg to differ. so... just for a further bit of distance, so that no-one has to read these things unless they really want to (and because i am now in danger of running out of space within this comment!), the answers specific to the two compositions singled out by mars... will appear below in a FOURTH comment..! hey, i am nothing if not meticulous (to the point of being anal) - as if that needed to be said, at this juncture ;-)

centrifuge said...

"best" (i.e. most insightful) review: i have brought this up several times over the last year, first in a footnote on the quartet autopsy itself, and at least twice more recently. again, i'm not trying to be tactless about it but it does bear repeating, not least because when b. said it, i made no attempt to brag about it or draw any attention to it AT ALL, the comment itself being enough for me (i basked happily in it for weeks!). it's worth repeating because... well, that's pretty obvious i think, the gap between my views on *conference...* and the recieved, "official" opinion to which all good jazzers are "supposed" to subscribe being so stark that it's well worth pointing out that i have on my "side" the opinion of one of the musicians involved. not the leader or composer, of course, but still...

again, in the interests of diplomacy: in bringing this up again i am not wishing to rub anyone's nose in it. b. himself was not, i am certain, wishing to imply any overt disrespect to a man who had formerly been a best friend of his; i would guess that b's own view stems from (above all) years of having to see critics single out *conference...* as an essential recording, not least because if you have that, you don't have to trouble yourself with any of b's own unlistenable rubbish, right? (again, not worth critiquing this stance, or not here of all places.)

centrifuge said...

the classic "british response" to this potential awkwardness would be to apologise for the fact that i wasn't apologising... indeed i suspect many people would phrase it that way without even realising ("sorry, but i don't feel..."). i took care to avoid this!

RichS said...

I don't think you'd ever need to apologize to Mr. Holland if you ever ran into him. Your criticisms are well thought out, and are certainly valid enough due to their subjective nature. And while I don't personally know the man, I don't think he'd take offense. Any musician, especially someone who's been around as long as he had, would realize that his music will not appeal to all listeners (and vive la difference, etc.).

Some people do get prickly when their favorites are not given the kind of reverence they think they are due. You don't have to apologize to these people either.

As it happens, I actually did run into Dave Holland earlier this year, and I lavished effusive praise on him for the Quintet show I saw the night before. He seemed like a very gracious and affable guy, and not just because I was flattering him.

I am a big fan of his music. But it's true that there's music I loved ten years ago that I wouldn't touch now (speaking in general, not specifically about Holland). Tastes change. And if you've been living with Conference of the Birds for nearly 40 years, then it shouldn't be surprising if your experience of it isn't the same as it used to be. Same for Dave Holland.

Regarding the commenter playing the "musician card": I think it is true that a musician will experience music somewhat differently than a non-musician. But it is obnoxious to use that fact to imply that a non-musician's opinion should be disregarded.

centrifuge said...

right then... spot of (lowish-grade) musicology coming up:

i wondered afterwards whether mars... might even be a student of holland's, but i think it's more likely he is simply a student of the bass and an admirer of dh as a player (which is of course perfectly understandable). [incidentally, when i gave a shortlist of bassists in reply i was not being deliberately obtuse or disingenuous: i had not yet had time to reach a conclusion about MWSNM's probable level of musicianship and therefore did not realise that he meant "a bassist of average ability". this, however, is no more a valid objection to b's music than it would be valid to say that stravinsky is no good because "ordinary" players can't get to grips with it: braxton's music is of the same high level of ambition.]

as regards the two pieces mars... singles out: "conference of the birds" is indeed a very pretty piece of music (though to call it a "wonderful composition" is to conflate a personal, subjective opinion with an objective value judgement); the other details are borderline-smokescreen since the "composed" bassline is an extremely simple one (though i would guess that the double-stops are a challenge for students) whilst the exercise in counterpoint is again very basic - and necessary, in any case, since neither melody can carry the tune on its own. "four winds": once again, to say "interesting theme" is to say nothing really - obviously i have had to learn a fair bit about what *not* to say in describing pieces of music - but as far as the shifting time-signatures go... yes, that's true; thinking about it since it's come up, this theme follows some of the rhythmic countours in the second-book repetition structure comp. 23c, though it's entirely possible that both pieces gestated at roughly the same time (haven't checked, not immediately accessible); but it's still not exactly tim berne, if you know what i'm saying, hence the shifting time is really ONLY a problem for someone who is learning it by reading a score, rather than by ear.

*neither* piece would benefit at all from slowing the tempo, in my estimation. it is very probably true, i imagine, that a student will stand a better chance of getting fully to grips with the harmonic and rhythmic details built into a theme if they forget about the tempo and play it slowly (this is probably just as well since that will often be necessary for less experienced students anyway!). but if "conference" were played any slower it would slip into a coma and provide nothing at all for the soloists to work with; "four winds" is clearly intended to be a medium-fastish, or at least upbeat, modern jazz number rather than an exercise in theme-construction, and when the braxton quartet played it (still only know of the one version, graz 1976) they took it at quite a lick. playing the piece slower won't do anything for it, though it bears repeating that it may well aid the student.

please note that these are NOT presented as opinions. i am attempting to make objective artistic assessments, based on everything i have learned in the last five years or so. i try still *have* opinions of course; i try not to conflate or confuse the two.

i did establish that mars... has a sound clip on his blogger page, but i haven't listened to it. (i may do so at some point.)

centrifuge said...

rich, thanks very much for the comment (and sure, always nice to get a bit of support!). it's worth pointing out that (as i've said around and about) i have actually been living *conference* with about TEN years... sometimes feels longer! (but then i often have this sense of long familiarity with music)