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Autumn Falls

Autumn Falls
Bruce Lindsay By

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It's autumn (Fall, if pushed). British jazz gets sensible again, and moves back indoors. As keen readers will be aware, JazzLife UK is essentially an indoor photography project—outdoors is the space that must be crossed to get from one indoors to another—and the thought of another nine months of gigs without the need to pack sunscreen and a waterproof coat, both essentials for the British summer, gladdens my heart. Other things about the UK scene have gladdened my heart as well. Lots of lovely new CDs, for a start: another benefit of summer's end, as Britain's jazz musicians return from their festival gigs and lengthy Caribbean holidays and get down to the serious business of shifting units.

Of course, heart-gladdening doesn't happen all the time. There are serious issues to consider, and JazzLife UK has focused on some of the more mysterious and eternal enigmas of jazz during the past few weeks. For instance:

Awards—are there ever enough?

Who would win a Best-Dressed British Jazzer award?

How many jazz reviewers can be insulted in 140 characters or less?

I'll give all of these crucial questions a bit of thought later on, but first—nostalgia.

Nostalgia—it is what it used to be

Nostalgia came to the fore as I found myself wistfully remembering the good old days of analogue recordings: a moment of nostalgia whose genesis lies deep in the unfeasibly long playing times that seem to have become the current fashion for the world's young jazz whiz-kids. Marcel Proust's remembrances might have been triggered by little cakes, but mine are roused by auditory stimuli: the cracks, pops and hisses of a much-loved record. Especially the 78—the recorded music repository of my father's youth.

Aah—the 78rpm disc, how JazzLife UK mourns its passing. Brittle, yes: scratchy too, after a few plays: fragile as well, breaking with ease. But it had one great advantage for the discerning listener—it would only fit three minutes of music on each side. It demanded economy, an ability to get your musical ideas across in no more than 180 seconds. The 45rpm vinyl single maintained this fine tradition. But time, and technology, moved on and brought us the 12-inch, 331/3rd rpm, album. Time moved on in another way, too, as 20 or even 25 valuable minutes could be squeezed on to each side. The progressive rockers leapt at the chance, even as the savvier artistes held back a bit—including John Coltrane, for example, with Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1960) clocking in at 37 minutes and A Love Supreme(Impulse!, 1965) troubling the turntable for a mere 33 minutes.

Then someone invented the CD. At first it was OK: bands still thought in album time. But gradually the chance to put more than 75 minutes of masterpieces on one small plastic disc proved too much. Why think about judiciously editing your output for the listener's pleasure when you can just throw everything onto the CD and trust to the likelihood that 99.9% of listeners never get past the first five tracks? Frankly, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

At the beginning of 2010 it seemed that every jazz CD I heard was crammed full—editing appeared to be a dying art. But in recent months some form of temporal sanity seems to be re-emerging, with a growing number of British jazz recordings coming in at less than 60 minutes. Suddenly, I am once again listening to entire albums in a single session: I can enjoy every tune, my mind wanders far less, I don't grumble nearly so much about over-long improvised percussion and piccolo duets. And, joy of joys, the deadly Hidden Track concept seems to have disappeared. All that remains is for someone to sort out the woeful state of far too much of UK jazz' CD packaging, then JazzLife UK would be a happy-ish man.

Live On Stage

In the wonderful world of live jazz it's been a time of musical contrasts for JazzLife UK: and a time of celebrations, too. The Jonathan Wyatt Big Band (pictured above) and Polar Bear provided the contrast: 40s big band swing versus twenty-first century small band honk and squawk. The Jonathan Wyatt Big Band is a Norfolk-based ensemble with a real feel for the swing and dance band era. Its performance at a Battle of Britain commemorative day in Norwich Assembly Rooms was given added authenticity by guest vocalist John Miller, nephew of the iconic Glenn Miller. The hall was full and the band, led by trombonist Wyatt, went down a storm—its tight, swinging and enthusiastic performance was a joy and would give many professional bands a run for their money.


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