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BAM: Bremen Art Music?

BAM: Bremen Art Music?
Francesco Martinelli By

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[Editor's Note: It's been quite a few years since Italian writer, music educator and general provocateur Francesco Martinelli last contributed to All About Jazz. Having recently returned home from Jazzahead! 2012 in Bremen, and with the current debates about the meaning, future and relevance of the word "jazz" fresh in his mind, Martinelli posits an alternate meaning to trumpeter Nicholas Payton's recent BAM campaign.]

Among the pile of the CDs collected during the hectic days of Bremen's Jazzahead! 2012—the biggest so far—I found myself looking at two compilations, the sampler prepared by Jazzahead! itself and the 12 Points 2012 CD. For those who do not know 12 Points, you should: not only did it receive the first Award for Innovative Programming, during the 25th anniversary celebrations of the European Jazz Network, but it is widely considered the most exciting initiative in European jazz festivals, collecting young musicians from 12 different countries and having them meet audiences in a different city every other year (the alternate years taking place in Dublin, from where it originates, thanks to the fertile mind and hard work of Gerry Godley).

Two compilations, four CDs, more than 50 tracks by as many different groups, more than twenty countries represented, including USA, Brasil and Venezuela. Is it a statistically representative sample? I guess not. But Jazzahead! and 12 Points are two of the hottest spots for jazz in Europe, and the selections are made by people who need their programs to be interesting, up-to-date, and attractive to audiences. The Bremen Messe is not financed by public money; it needs revenue from exhibitors to get going, and exhibitors come only if there is widespread interest. Judging from this year's visitors, there is: you could meet representatives from music festivals and labels, as well as musicians from North and South America, Japan and China alongside Europe and surrounding areas including Russia, Turkey and Israel. So if these compilation are not statistically representative, they are at least meaningful.

Are there any facts that we can gather from this compilations? Maybe.

For one, there is very little of what "jazz" is according, to the "jazz police." The "jazz police" are the self-appointed border guards, la migra of jazz; they even know what "pure jazz" is—an oxymoron if ever was one. Blues is no more referenced than other musical styles, maybe less. Swing rhythms comes in many different fashions, none of which is very close to the type perfected about half a century ago, but some of the groups swing hard, in their own way (beware: I support the notion that there's a lot of swing in the way Alexander von Schlippenbach's trios play). Most of these musicians play their original songs; exceptions—and I am always talking about these specific four CDs—are five songs, by Henri Salvador, Leonard Cohen, Frank Zappa, Michel Legrand and Van Morrison, as well as arrangements of folk tunes from Venezuela, Spain, Serbia and Turkey. There are no "jazz standards" to be found; that's a trend right there.

One of the most sickening aspects of jazz is its concern with a manifactured past, enshrined in a canon derived from a European classical music concept. Does anybody playing a Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) tribute ever considers why Miles Davis himself, in 25 years never, made one (well, he barely did one)? If Davis' eyes were on the money, that would have been a better paying and safer bet than going electric. A repertory reenactment of great past moments—separated from their historical context, with none of the original energy and so more and more meaningless—is conspicuously absent on these four CDs. I find this extremely refreshing and truer to what the greatest artists in jazz expressed in life, art and words.

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