The (or my) question is: nowadays, how does one recognize such a thing?
I frequently read album reviews of artists that are in my generation (25-35). Many of the writers proclaim that the artist doesn’t quite have their own “voice” or that the artist is still in the process of finding his/her own “voice”. Whenever I read a statement like this I can’t help but wonder if the writer were to put the record on repeat and listen to it all day, day in and day out (no one I know has time for this, but you know what I mean), would that artist then have their own “voice” in the view of the writer’s mind’s ear?
Good question. Is the ability to recognize a musical voice (particularly a "new" and / or "original" voice) akin to the process of learning a new language? Does it involve, you know, hard work?
That "no one I know has time for this" is actually pretty important. I strongly suspect that if you factor in whatever gets counted as "indie" (and maybe even if you don't), there is much more recorded music being produced today than, say, forty years ago. Who has time to listen to it all? And yet, if you can't listen to it all, how do you know what an original voice is? ("Original voice" would have to be defined in the context of "all recorded music," no?)
For me, it is all related to definitions of "listening." I have read about critics dismissing a disc after two or three spins in the car. Huh? Have they really heard the thing? I realize, of course, that this is a strategy for making the review glut more manageable -- as the review copies start to pile up, one reaches for any excuse to cross an item off the list, and thus get closer to a feeling of "critical mastery" (a pretty elusive feeling in this day and age). But come on! Some of my current favorite recordings have taken weeks (or even months) for me to warm up to -- time that involved listening in different contexts, and usually (at some point) setting aside an evening for deep listening with headphones.
(Which is not to say that there isn't some music that I pretty much know on first listen is never really gonna resonate with me.)
In the long run we want to be remembered for having our own “thing”. I’ve heard some say that the age of obtaining a personal unique style of improvising [or composing?] in jazz is gone. I don’t really agree with that assessment [...]
Me neither. But I do wonder if it is getting harder to recognize "a thing" when we hear it.