Chris Robinson @crmusicwriter

mostly music, sometimes books


My views on much needed new forms of jazz criticism (at least for me)

As I was writing a couple reviews for Downbeat last weekend and earlier this week I started to fully comprehend something that has been percolating in my brain the last few months or so: that a good deal of the time the 250-300 word CD review found in popular jazz magazines, or in other jazz blogs,

I’m partial to Doug Ramsey’s Rifftides – if you haven’t, read his biography of Paul Desmond, it is excellent and is highly recommended (it’s sad to see that a quick scan through Ramsey’s shows how many jazz masters have passed away just in the last 6 months: Buddy Collette, Abbey Lincoln, Marion Brown, Hadley Caliman, and on). 

Destination: Out is also a favorite blog of mine with plenty of free mp3’s of rare and out of print avant-garde music (thanks to I. Sinclair for hipping me to this a few years back). 

or concert reviews, reviews and comments on youtube clips, etc., might – emphasis on might – not be the most effective (at least to me) ways of writing about the performance at hand.  I don’t want to run the risk here of suggesting that I’m in the head of every jazz writer out there, because that would be stupid for a bunch of reasons, let alone not productive, so the following relates to my thoughts about my writing.

When I write, and as I write more and more, I feel hindered – if that’s the right word – by not being able to really get at how I interpret and would like to communicate my take on a given record, article or concert.  While I’m confident that I’ve done a handful of very good reviews for Earshot Jazz and Downbeat in the traditional 300-500 word format, sometimes I feel like that’s not the best way for me to approach a record review.  All you need to see is my recent review on this site of Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron’s album Unduality to see what I’m getting at.  There are about a 100 reasons why that review is unpublishable in Downbeat, or any other mainstream publication for that matter.  But for me, that was the best way I could get my point across for that particular record.

Perhaps I just don’t have the chops yet, or a good enough handle on the traditional review style, to make everything I want to say fit into that format.  Or maybe for me, that format doesn’t always work, when for other people they can say exactly what they want and how they want in that format.  I’ve been blown away many times by reviews, leaving me wishing why I couldn’t write like that, or why I didn’t think of that when it’s a review of something I’ve heard or wrote about, so I know the format works for a lot of folks.

So, because I sometimes have trouble expressing myself in the traditional review form, or “genre” as my professor Dr. B. C. would say, I’m going to try and post some reviews on this site in the near future that make a break from this format.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing in the traditional way (my recent review of Anat Fort’s And If a few days back is proof of this), but I will be trying some new things that will hopefully allow me to better express how I feel about certain records or performances in a new way.

On the docket is a “review,” if you could call it that, of Dave Douglas and Keystone’s performance at the Blue Room in Kansas City a few weeks back that is in the form of free verse poetry (I’ve been working on it for a week and I’m not really sure when it will be “done”).  Another review poem in the works is of Jon Irabagon’s newest album Foxy

Poetry however, will not be the only new form I will be trying.  As I was listening to Howard Wiley and the Angola Project’s new album, 12 Gates to the City, I realized there is a way to expand upon the traditional review format and go in a more detailed, quasi-academic direction.  Not to give too much away, but I’m going to show how Wiley’s album is a fantastic one to use to give college students in an introductory music or American Studies course a quick and dirty on the history of Black Music (I’m already figuring out how to use the album in my Intro to American Studies class @ KU this spring-hope it works).  So stay tuned.

Anway, it’s my hope that with experimenting and trying out new forms in the coming months on this site (because if I tried this for DB I’m sure I my assignments would drop off rather quickly) that I can better develop not only my writing voice, but explore new ways of writing about music.  So please bear with me with my efforts. 

And it’s off to the office to meet with a student.  Happy Friday, Peace.

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