Today I GOT A BATCH of LP's in the mail and a short while later after listening to the lot of them, I began to have the seedy sensation usually referral to in radio commercials as "nagging backache." My back aches a good part of the time but it usually doesn't nag or argue with me. It simply lives its own miserable life while I stew out mine. But now it nagged. I asked my friendly neighborhood druggist for a quick-acting, but gentle, remedy guaranteed to make me again a "regular fellow," but it was no go. My ache went further than that of the singing commercial and needed more than something that tasted like the finest chocolate to cure. Mental On brought on by a surfeit of mediocrity, exhibitionism, pluggism, magenta-album-liner-prosism, and general creeping ennui. A few quick laps around the track, a couple of dozen pushups, some knee-bends, a finger of Johnny Walker, and once again my good eye sparkled with its old abandon and my back subsided to the normal dull throb. But the whole nasty experience gate pause to consider. This sort of thing does that to a Man. Kind of brings one up short or even shorter than one is usually brought up.
I am convinced that when the archeologists of a thousand years hence are digging around in the ruins of 20th Century Man, the thing they will unearth most frequently next to Chevvy hub-caps, plastic Donald Ducks, and yo-yo's will be millions of round flat objects pierced for earlobe decorations, but most probably connected with some long forgotten tribal ritualistic orgy. But we know better, don't we? They will be placed in museum cases and will probably be sold to the avant garde of the time to be used as wall decor much as African masks are used today. And I am afraid that a goodly percentage of the stuff being cut currently belongs on walls and underfoot right now, not a thousand years from now. Certainly it seems to have no place on any self respecting reasonably selective record turntable. For the life of me I can't understand what goes on in the cloudy minds of many record company execs that compels there to issue some of the stuff that is being expensively packaged and distributed today. Of course, the first answer is the inevitable buck, but a lot of these turkeys don't even fill the somewhat simple role of dollar-bait. Why then? Who knows.
There is a common superstition among record buyers that the only field that is crowded with mediocre banal commercial releases is the muck, and justly so, maligned "pop" record market. However, it is the sad duty for me to report that "Creeping Nothingness," my own term, is becoming a major pox in all the areas of recorded music. This includes the "serious" as well as jazz releases. Since jazz is the specific province of the present essay I'll stick to that area, but I would like to point out in passing that the problem of too many issues per month and the inevitable decline of quality and selectivity is not a jazz issue alone but is very much in evidence in the "serious" or classical catalogs as well. Perhaps even more so, but I'll leave that note to other reviewers.
Most people who buy records regularly have a tendency to dismiss such carping statements as mine with the pat answer that runs something like, "So what, I don't have to buy the junk. Let 'em go broke, but I'll still only buy what I want." That's fine as far as it goes, but the problem is much more complicated than that and is one that every buyer gets caught up in sooner or later. The dear dead simple days of going down to the record shop twice a month - or when there were a couple of extra bucks handy to squander on music - in order to hear all the latest stuff in the booth, have gone the way of Pick and Pat. It would be necessary to give up job, home, children, self-respect, and ping pong in order to hear even a reasonable fractions of the current releases all the way through- A room in a cheap hotel near the record shop would be handy, too, in order to cut down travel time and expenses between the hi-fi set at home and the listening booth- At that, there are obviously more then several fanatics who apparently do just that. I would recommend that any of you who doubt me on this score spend a half hour in the Colony Record Shop just observing the actions of Homo Boobus Jazzicus on any average night. They never go home. If, indeed, they have any to go to. But for the rest of us poor unbearded undark-glassed mortals, such peregrinations are impossible as well as somewhat distasteful. And damned irritating too. Today it is really a tough job to find good recorded material among all the dross one must wade through- By "good" I simply mean stuff that deserved to be recorded and packaged regardless of classification. And there you have the nub of the whole thing-
Record and Release Everything.
There seems to he a current belief as well as practice among record entrepreneurs that anything a jazz musician plays is worthy of passing along to posterity as well as the record shop counters. So hence we have endless inanities such as (quoting trout a typical record liner) "this didn't start out as a record session at all, but the boys were blowing one night at Hermie's Bar when in came Max and his tape recorder. Without saying a word he set the mike up next to the Coke machine and two hours later we were really gassed when we heard the playback after the last set-" The only thing one wonders about is what kind of gas was used. To the untrained ear in this sort of thing, the first thought that occurs is perhaps a mild variety of nerve gas was blowing through the ventilators in Hermie's place that "historic night." I might add that most such recordings are designated by the notes which always accompany then, as "permanent additions to the small list of really great jazz performances," end of typical quote. Most of this sort of guff is the purest eyewash and the people who write it know it but they also know it sells records as well as future lucrative assignments in the growing field of liner-note-writing- By the way, this school of writing is becoming closely allied to that of the Madison Avenue singing soap ditties and bears no known relation. ship to the serious criticism which it pretends to be. So it goes. Don't get the idea that I am trying to say that there is no decent stuff being recorded these days. Far from it. There is, in fact, more first class material available today than ever before,
but there is also far more pap than ever before and it is getting more and more difficult to separate the sheep from the goats simply because there are such enormous herds of goats around. And the liner notes all cleverly refer to the goats as being the finest and most worthy of all sheep- A few recording companies have tried to hold the line as best they can, but the trend is against them. The same psychology that is operative in the pop field is more and more taking hold in all areas of the re-cording business- This briefly stated is one in which the outfit searching for a good seller does so not on the basis of quality of performance and pressing but purely through sheer numbers of releases. "If I turn out fifty new discs a month, I have a better chance to clean up on one of them than if I release only five per month." This is obviously questionable logic since it does not take into account the ephemeral element of quality and only relies upon quantity. But there it is and we have to live with it. All we can do is offer a small tear for those worthy musicians who are being buried under the deluge and hope they get their rewards in Heaven if they can't make it in royalties.
The Sunny Side
Let us now don our dark glasses and finger our imaginary beard :Is we browse a bit among tine newer releases. There are a few good ones.
LENNIE TRISTANO ATLANTIC 1224
Tristan is a sort of demigod among modern musicians and rightly so. He is, like Ban, much more talked about and referred to than listened to. This was mainly because he is one of the least recorded major jazz figures of the past ten years. For some unexplained reason, many relatively unimportant musicians are able to flood the market with records while a man of the slature of Tristano remains largely unknown to the vast bulk of record buyers. He is here heard in company with Lee Konitz, his long-time associate, in a session recorded on the stand. I'll venture to say that there is hardly a serious jazz musician around who hasn't already put in his order for a copy of this one. And for good reason- Listen to it.
JAll COMPOSERS WORKSHOP - SAVOY MG 12059
A very interesting if somewhat pretentious effort by the Charlie Mingus Workshop- Mingus is the highly vocal critic of modern lass musicians and a talented bass player. The personnel, in addition to Mingus, is in itself imposing. John La Porta, alto, Teo Macero, baritone sax, Geo. Barrow, tenor, Mal Waldron, piano, with Wally Cirillo occasionally appearing on piano, and the impeccable Kenny Clark alternating with Rudy Nichols on drums. The most interesting part of this offering is the writing, which varies from the self-consciously "modern" of the item entitled ''Gregorian Chant" to the highly amusing and literate treatment of "Tea For Two." This recording obviously won't appeal to a large segment of the jazz public but I found It consistently attention holding. You might like it also. Exceptionally well recorded.
THE EMINENT JAY JAY JOHNSON - BLUE NOTE 1505
More of the work of one of the outstanding trombonists of the last ten years. Here is situation that is roughly the reverse of that of Tristano. Johnson is well represented on recording, and In fact, sometimes too much so. His work is always good, if not always inspired, and he should watch the tendency to allow pointless things to be released merely in order to fill out another LP. Happily this disc has some high points that make it a good buy since he appears with a variety of people as these cuts were captured on tape over the last three years- I still say however that too many recordings on the market can be in some ways worse than not enough.