[Editor's note: Ah, yes. Here is the post I would have published last week at about this time, if only I hadn't started developing what initially seemed like an innocent-enough headcold. The sequel to this post -- you know, the usual apres-tour "here's what actually happened in excruciating detail" post -- will be forthcoming later this week. But for those of you interested in the bottom line: this trip to SoCal was well worth it.]
So I'll be heading down to Los Angeles next week for more band-related madness: a pair of gigs in the San Diego area on March 28 (one at Mesa College, and one at Dizzy's -- the latter has historically been one of our favorite places to play), and then a more-and-more-illicit-sounding engagement at 2nd Street Jazz in downtown LA (it appears we'll be hitting at 1 AM on the morning of March 30). It will be my first time back in southern California since mid-Fall of '06, and I'm very curious to see what (if anything) has changed, either about the place itself, or about my perception of it.
If nothing else, it will be a rush to reconnect with some of the beloved IJG veterans, as Jill and I will be joined by key players from the east coast tour: Dan Schnelle (drums), Oliver Newell (bass), Dan Rosenboom (trumpet), Damon Zick (bari), Brian Walsh (tenor), Evan Francis (alto), and Ben Wendel (tenor) [editor's note: as it turned out, Wendel couldn't make these gigs]. Other long-lost personnel with whom we will be joyously reunited: Ryan Perez-Daple (soprano) and Ron Christian (bone) [editor's note: as it turned out, Christian couldn't make these gigs either -- thankfully, we were able to enlist the help of SD bonist Brandon Jagow for Dizzy's]. Of course, it wouldn't be an IJG tour without a few new faces as well, and so we welcome trumpeters Stephanie Richards and Clinton Patterson stepping in for Phil Rodriguez and Kris Tiner, respectively (Phil is now based in Brooklyn, and Kris will soon be based in new-daddy-land -- a country I know well), soprano saxophonist Gavin Templeton (sitting in for Cory Wright), trombonist Ian Carroll (sitting in for any one of our last several trombonists), and baritone saxophonist Gabriel Sundy (sitting in for Damon at Mesa only [editor's note: as it turned out, the very versatile Sundy played 2nd tenor at the Dizzy's gig as well]).
(Do you ever get the feeling that I use these gig-announcement posts to rehearse the names of the players?)
It will be an IJG-packed four days for me. Aside from the shows, I have set aside ample chunks of time to continue working on the new album(s) (why the plural? ...well, it looks like there is enough material for two releases... more on that later), which have already been in progress for almost a year now. Maybe it's because of this preoccupation with getting the record(s) done that I have been particularly interested to see the little blogospheric flurry of musings on the question of recording and jazz. For me it started with KT's sharing of Nate Dorward's Signal to Noise review of two of his quartet's releases. Check it out for yourself. The thing that sort of jumped out at me was Dorward's apparent discomfort with the quality of the recording of the live Hello the Damage discs (as if somehow "poor audio quality" isn't a factor in some of the best jazz records you will ever hear (Hello, Birth of the Cool)). The always-thorough DJA picked up on this too, and nicely folded it into a response to one of Daniel Melnick's posts over at Soundslope (with me so far?). That Soundslope post is rather sophistimacated (as most of them seem to be), but let me try and do it justice: after three paragraphs on microlending, Daniel jumps into the subject of recording, helpfully pointing toward two relevant essays from the OkkaDisk site: Kevin Whitehead's "Why many records are very bad -- and a few are good," and Stu Vandermark's "Recording Jazz: A Questionable Practice? (or, a Call for Re-examination)."
When you take all this stuff together (or at least when I did), it seems there are two bottom-line issues here. I'll try and address 'em one at a time, while simultaneously remembering my desire to lose self-importance:
1. Issue the first: the idea that, when it comes to jazz, "live" is better than "recorded" (a view articulated in the Vandermark piece). Honestly, I almost choked on my coffee when I read that. Why don't we try and prop up old saws like "east coast jazz is better than west coast jazz" or "it can only be jazz if it swings" while we're at it?
Look, I love live jazz. I love live music, period. But I love good records too, and I refuse to see them as pale reflections of some pure, authentic experience. That's a little too churchy for me. Hell, I'll admit it: there are times (like when one of the exceedingly uncomfortable chairs that tend to populate most venues wreaks havoc on my arthritic back) that I would much prefer to be listening with headphones at home.
Maybe the thing that is so frustrating about the Vandermark piece is that some of his observations are actually pretty right-on. F'r'instance: of course jazz is "an ongoing process" -- all art is, really, regardless of the myths we tell ourselves about "finished" works -- and that's why folks like Ellington, Mingus, and Monk were constantly re-recording their pieces (in addition to re-performing them live).
But a lot of SV's statements can be turned inside-out and still ring true in an entirely different way, for an entirely different audience. For every listener who finds that recordings don't live up to the "magic" of a performer's live vibe, there are others who could safely argue that live (or other recorded) renditions of a given tune inevitably fail to match up with the je ne sais quoi of a certain recording. It is hard to imagine a version of "Lotus Blossom" as powerful as the almost casual solo piano one that appears on ...And His Mother Called Him Bill. And for all the great instances of "Mood Indigo," none comes close to the Okeh version, which, incidentally, actually derives some of its beautiful creepiness from the recording technology itself (it's the same phenomenon in black and white films; a technological "limitation" becomes a part of the aesthetic). Of course, there are more (and more famous) examples from the world of rock: "Like a Rolling Stone" is one of those tunes that only seemed to work at one specific moment in the context of its original recording session (as Greil Marcus has argued).
2. Issue the second: the idea that the "lo-fi" aesthetic is verboten amongst those of the jazz persuasion. This is actually true, at least in my experience, but I want to bemoan it with all of the sense of tragedy I can muster.
I don't see lo-fi so much as a question of cost -- strictly in terms of "man hours," a competent jazz quartet recorded by an expensive engineer with all of the best gear in a nice room can probably get their record over and done with long before (and thus at a lower price than) their endlessly-fiddling post-rock "home studio" comrades. The "fi" in "lo fi," of course, refers to "fidelity" (aka "authenticity") and this is where I start to ponder the situation. It should be obvious by now that I adore the sound of acoustic instruments, and the possibilities you get when you assemble a lot of them together in a room -- clearly, if I didn't, I could do what I'm doing with the IJG much more cheaply with some sort of elaborate keyboard/guitar setup. But I have never understood why jazz records are held up to the standard of verisimilitude above all else -- why they strive to create the impression that somehow there is no studio, and why they altogether miss the artistic potential recording technology has to offer.
The studio is just another creative device, like a key, or a time signature, or a horn. But it's as if we jazzers see it as purely an inscription tool, and aren't the least bit curious about what all of those freakin' buttons and dials can do for us.