Wednesday, June 03, 2009

All I have are questions

For some reason, I'm still chewing on this MOPDtK review. Kind of funny, because I don't even know the group all that well. They do seem like kindred spirits of a sort, but I haven't yet absorbed much of their music (er, "moosic").

It doesn't really matter for what follows, though. I don't want to harp on the Peter Hum piece (honestly, I have no beef with Mr. Hum -- in fact, I think he's a terrific writer), but the arguments it contains seem to me to be representative of a broader view in the jazz critical cognoscenti. Which is not to deny Hum's point that MOPDtK have achieved "critical darling" status. It's just that I have heard the same complaints about "schtick" and lack-of-substance coming from the Bagatellens and One Final Notes of the world -- the sort of publications that bestowed that same critical darling status Hum is resisting. This suggests that there is a more broadly-held critical perspective at work here, one that informs both "progressive" and "conservative" jazz fans.

Maybe this is the bit to address:

[...] I have to thank [MOPDTK] for making me realize that my appetite for musical deconstruction and exaggerated playing, heavy on effect and yuks, is definitely more limited than it once was. Too frequently on This Is Our Moosic, so many solos go to the same place. A horn overblows. The drums skitter and clatter. The band presses the schtick button. I may be too much caught up in "value" and "quality" lacking a sense of "fun," but I find these moves to be easy ways out, substitutes for more surprising and substantial musical developments. MOPDTK has its concept, rooted in music that most likely doesn't do much for me either, but the group, beyond its funhouse esthetic, seems to me to be accessing musical cliches of its own, as much as any well-worn tri-tone substitution or earnestly intended Art Blakey shuffle might be for jazz musicians who aspire to more mainstream, and dare I say serious, beauties.

And so, I'll address it:

How exactly does one identify a musical "yuk"?

What is "overblowing" in the context of MOPDtK, and why is it bad, exactly? What is "skittering and clattering" in the context of MOPDtK, and why are they bad, exactly? (I sometimes wish critics were forced to provide sound clips to accompany every statement.)

Does the suggestion that "the schtick button" is an "easy way out" mean that art is always supposed to be hard? And what does it mean to suggest that art can either be "easy" or "hard"? Mozart seemed to be able to fart out great music -- how does that square with the concept of taking the "easy way out"?

What if the word "schtick" is like the word "queer" -- used to denigrate an aesthetic approach or lifestyle one disagrees with, but ultimately reclaim-able as a positive value by the practitioners of that approach or lifestyle? Or, in the context of this review, is it an irredeemable term, meant to convey the idea that MOPDtK literally want to swindle audiences?

Are "value" and "quality" mutually exclusive from the concept of "fun"?

Is it the critic's job to express things with certainty? Is it the critic's job to persuade? What's the difference between a critic and a publicist?

How many times must something be repeated (and for whom?) before it becomes a cliche?

Is it wrong to love something without understanding why? Is it (ever?) enough to love something without understanding why? When?

Rhetorical questions, perhaps. Still, I'll try to unpack 'em in the days ahead. Or maybe you can do it for me.


Stanley Jason Zappa said...

Ooooh FUN! I love FUN!

Could you try and unpack the "fun" aspect first? And by unpack the "fun" aspect I mean could you explain this sentence:

I may be too much caught up in "value" and "quality" lacking a sense of "fun," but I find these moves to be easy ways out, substitutes for more surprising and substantial musical developments.

(Can music be fun, or can music only be music? Can something be two things at once?)

I know something very important is being said by PHUM, but I'm not quite sure what. Also, if you could unpack what a substantial musical development is, that would be swell too. Is that like a sponsorship? A major label contract? Those things also seem like's all so confusing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the last two posts. After reading Peter Hum's review, I proceeded to knock my fucking head against the wall of my apartment for several hours.



Andrew Durkin... said...

@SJZ -- Thanks! Your comments are always fun to read!

Unpacking will commence soon. It may take years to complete, of course. Stand by.

@Ian -- Don't hurt yourself, man! It's only art.