Ajay Heble: Landing on the Wrong Note
The penultimate essay in Landing on the Wrong Note deals with the effect of market forces on improvised music. Jazz in general, it must be appreciated, consists of under 3% of record sales in this country. Innovative (i.e. "dissonant") jazz often faces significant hurdles between performance and documentation, essentially mediated by the facts of life. Record labels either need substantial extramusical funding support (e.g. HatHut and related labels) or they need to make money off of the records they release.
Since "alternative" or "innovative" (i.e. "dissonant") jazz tends to have a tiny audience of devoted listeners, the music that falls into this category frequently gets left by the wayside. Certain artists, such as John Zorn, have managed to flirt with public acceptance and still retain intellectual and artistic authenticity. However, most ground-breaking musicians tend not to be so fortunate. Again, Heble speaks in a analytical and historical sense without offering solutions.
Finally, Heble discusses the problematic issue of music associated with ethics. Using saxophonist Charles Gayle as an example, he touches on the question of whether brilliant music can be accepted if it comes packaged with ideals of hate, intolerance, or racism. It's an old and tired issue, with historical precedents in the work of Wagner and Pound, and no real possibility for resolution.
Gayle is an apt subject because he frequently espouses an intolerant pentacostelist preaching mentality, which has appeared on his recordings. Gayle has little respect for gays, premarital sex, or abortion, and he makes his views amply clear through specific verbal statements incorporated into his music. While Gayle is a powerful and innovative performer, it's hard to separate the music from the ideas. Thus the counfounding problem: does one support art tethered to hate? Of course there are no easy answers.
As one can see from this summary, Heble touches on a broad spectrum of issues in Landing on the Wrong Note. His discussion of linguistic aspects of free jazz (in the first essay) is by far the most potent and thought-provoking. The remainder of the book deals with important historical, cultural, and ethical issues but leaves many questions unanswered. The problem, in essence, is that when one considers art as an isolated form of expression, it can be discussed much more rigorously and definitively. When art mixes with culture, things get more complicated.
For the tiny fraction of the tiny fraction of music listeners who treasure innovative improvised music (ie. "dissonance"), Heble's book is thought-provoking and powerful. Of course Heble falls victim to the same market forces he describes in his sixth essay: most readers are not interested in serious academic discussion, and would prefer to sit down with something lighter and more easily digested. No easy solutions for that problem either, other than to emphasize the value of this kind of work within the celebration of the "dissonance" that has driven and continues to drive jazz forward.