BAM: Bremen Art Music?
Does it mean that some traditional models have disappeared? Up to a point. Today, a visiting American musician certainly does not have to insist to play a non-standard tune, as saxophonist Stan Getz did in 1949, opening the way for Miles' "Dear Old Stockholm." On the other hand, despite the massive entry of instruments that are considered marginal in jazz, the instrumental colors of these group are firmly rooted in modern jazz. Trumpets, saxophones, drum sets and double basses are still the main fare. They are played in a way that is unmistakably derived from a wide arc that includes the great creators of modern, post-1957 jazz, that includes Davis and his different groups, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman, down through Bill Frisell and Brad Mehldau. But, at the same time, a pan-European inspiration is also there, from Jan Garbarek and Edward Vesala to John Surman, Louis Sclavis, Gianluigi Trovesi and Han Bennink/Mengelberg; the freedom to use folk forms and free improvisation, as well as classically proportioned forms; and a liberal dose of humor, so often missing from the jazz reenactments of times past. The single most spread inspiration must be, however, Wayne Shorter, both as a composer and bandleader of his own quartet; incredibly enough, one hears more than ever Warne Marsh-isms via Mark Turner. Drummers are all of the post-Elvin Jones and Tony Williams affiliationand, again, Brian Blade figures prominently on the horizon.
There is no idiomatic affiliation to any of the music played by those masters however, or to a specific form; a general level of extremely high technical competence and efficiency allows these young musicians to let different worlds collide, as in those researches for subatomic particles, and just see what will happen if you pick a metal groove and crash it into an Erik Satie piano melody, or juxtapose a folk rhythm with a screaming saxophone, throwing everything up in the air and still landing safely without losing sight of the general shape of the piece. If jazz, at its best, always defied definition, this panorama is jazzeven more so, in fact.
Among past genres, or strains, of jazz, free jazz and European free improvisation have certainly left a stamp that it is bigger than their marketshare or popularity. These musicians do not necessarily practice free improvising constantly, but they would not dream of not being able to include freely improvised episodes in their pieces. Popular styles of rock, jazz and fusion seem also passé, and if these musicians reference rock, they do it directly. Piano trios seem, understandably, to have for the moment almost exhausted their possibilities.
What is even more interesting to witness is the type of bond that these groups establish with audiences who are young, especially when compared to the greybeards of "jazz" (between quotation marks) demographics, so often decried in the jazz press. Amid the lamentations from the jazz musicians playing "in style" that they can not find work, there seems to be a goodish amount of gigs for groups that could easily fall into the "jazz avantgarde" category but are, in fact, more easy to listen tofor kids their agethan the endless explorations into the subtleties of hard-bop idiom considered by some the only music qualified to be called jazz.
There were already those niches in European music, and they can be great fun: I for one don't enjoy anything better than an argument between a supporter of Tebaldi and one of Callas, or one of Mitropoulos against one of Toscanini, possibly leading to fisticuffs and broken friendships. These are still better than those dreary European fortresses of atonalism and serialism, where the spirit of Schoenberg and Webern is forgotten in favour of repeating patterns copped from their compostionswait a minute, this sounds familiar!
In fact, I have the feeling that many of these groups are not expecially anxious to be considered as jazzthe four letter word is distinctly downplayed on the promotional material of 12 Points. Is all this music equally successful or even interesting? I suppose not. It is more so, however, than much of what is being sold under the "jazz" name these days, be it Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday wannabees, badly manufactured swing, languid Latin songs, or machine-gun lick shooters. At least no one can honestly complain that it all "sounds the same," which is the observation, not entirely off the mark, that unconverted participants to jazz festivals do so often make.