Is it me, or are jazz CDs getting increasingly long? An ever increasing proportion of CDs that randomly show up in my mail, that are assigned to me to review, and that I buy, seem to be pushing the 70 minute mark, and often surpass it. Unless it’s an opera (Einstein on the Beach comes to mind here),
Does anybody else find Einstein on the Beach to be maybe the best music ever for late night writing? Put it on, get a cup of English breakfast tea, get a donut, and let the endless hypnotic motivic permutations carry you through the night.
or any of Bruckner’s symphonies, 70+ minutes is just too long, especially for me.
I have three explanations/theories for why there are so many long jazz CDs coming out:
1. Most of the CDs I get, regardless of how I get them, are often by musicians who are not household names and who are often putting up their own cash to record their projects. In this case I can totally understand the impulse to record as much of their music as possible, because who knows when the next chance to record their work will be.
2. Household names – or at least “Established Talent,” as the Downbeat critics poll category goes – such as Bill Frisell, who seemingly have a new band and record them every other month probably want to document as much of their new band as possible, as chances are the next record is going to be completely different. Frisell’s The Intercontinentals comes to mind here, which is completely different than the rest of his recent work, in that he gets into the cross-cultural bag by way of tablas and other “non-jazz” instruments.
…And 3. the “established talent” band leader is a narcissist. I will not name names, but I bet you can think of somebody out there.
Reasons 1 and 2 lead to the following question: What is the best way to document your music? Is it to record everything that can fit on a CD, or is it better to focus on making a good record?
I argue that it is better to make a good record, by which I mean considering the record in a holistic sense. Not thinking of an album as a chance to get everything down, but to pick the absolute best performances and compositions to create a tight, uniform, and aesthetically clear document of the music. I.E., a concise artistic statement, whatever the hell that means. A good record should leave the listener wanting more, not thinking to themselves “Ok, I get the point. How many songs are left?” (I’m actually listening to one of those albums right now btw-turns out there are three more tracks).
Case in point: in the October issue of Downbeat I gave Liam Sillery’s new album Phenomenology a 5 star review (check out my review of it on the Origin Records web site here). It clocked in at just under 38 minutes. Every time I listen to it I desperately want to hear more. This is one of the reasons, among many, that I absolutely love Sillery’s record; it’s a record, not a string of songs that after a while say the exact same things in different ways. Being able to go back and dig into Sillery’s album, because it is so short, allows me to get into what he and his group is doing, and to me it’s a much more rewarding listening experience than sitting down for a 78 minute grind where the band has run out of new things to say at the 45 minute mark.
Of course my views could change should I ever get the opportunity to make a record (and no, a live recording of a big band I sub in occasionally would not count). But as a listener and critic, I prefer to hear a shorter album that offers the best a musician and their project have to offer at any given time rather than the “here’s what I got” approach that seems to be so prevalent.