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Music Farther Outside by Bill Shoemaker


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Music Farther Outside: Experimental Music During Brexit and the Pandemic
Bill Shoemaker
213 Pages
ISBN: #9781538178775
Rowman & Littlefield

Music Farther Outside is a sequel to two books. First, it is Bill Shoemaker's follow-up to his excellent Jazz in the 1970s: Diverging Streams (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017). Both are in the tradition of jazz critics such as Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Stanley Crouch, Amiri Baraka, and Greg Tate, whose books were mostly compilations of previously published record reviews, liner notes, and artist profiles. However, Shoemaker has two advantages over his august predecessors. One is that, as the editor of the online quarterly Point of Departure, he is his own boss and is not constrained by the space limitations of print magazines or record jackets. The other is that for both books the texts have been revised to highlight unifying themes and structures.

In Jazz in the 1970s, each chapter uses a particular artist, album, or event to represent each year of the decade but zooms out to give an overview both of that artist's career and of an important phenomenon in the music of the 1970s. For example, his 1978 chapter starts with Jimmy Carter hosting a day of jazz at the White House to celebrate the Newport Jazz Festival, which included Cecil Taylor among many other artists, then reviews the arc of Taylor's music and career, emphasizing his renegotiation of the relationship between improvisation and composition.

Music Farther Outside has a narrower geographical and chronological scope but a wider musical one, as the subtitle "Experimental Music During Brexit and the Pandemic" states. The subjects: Philip Thomas , Pat Thomas (no relation), Richard Barrett, Elaine Mitchener, Rachel Musson, Corey Mwamba, and Charlotte Keefe, plus the London Improvisers Orchestra and the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, all make work which is connected to African diasporic creative music but which is often a generation or two removed from even the broadest conception of "jazz." Barrett, for one, established himself as a composer in the New Complexity movement before performing as an improviser or incorporating improvisation into his scores, and experienced improvised music as a player and listener in the Dutch and UK scenes of the 1990s, twenty-five years after those communities were inspired by free jazz to cultivate their own discourses, while the founders of the London Improvisers Orchestra were reacting to their experiences performing Conduction under the direction of Lawrence Butch Morris.

Second, as its title signals and Shoemaker details in his preface, Music Farther Outside is a sequel to Ian Carr's 1973 Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain. Carr presented a similar compilation of profiles, surveying the scene at the time, including Mike Westbrook, Jon Hiseman, John Stevens, Trevor Watts, Evan Parker, Mike Gibbs, and Chris McGregor, as well as Carr himself. Shoemaker argues in his introduction that Carr's inclusion of Stevens, Watts, and Parker was important in defining them and the free improvisation scene they represented as part of British jazz. Mark Banks and Jason Toynbee, in their essay in Black British Jazz (Ashgate 2014), note that Carr wrote only about white men and defined a scene with an avant-garde whose links to post-Modernist art music made them legible to grantmakers, marginalizing postcolonial Black musicians such as Joe Harriott and approaching the community of South African exile players through the white pianist McGregor rather than any of its Black members, such as Louis Moholo-Moholo, Dudu Pukuwana, Mongezi Feza, or Johnny Dyani. In contrast, fifty years later, white men are a minority of Shoemaker's subjects, and this passes almost unnoticeably, as do his mentions of some of these artists' same-sex partners. Given the present controversy around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts, it is important to notice progress when it happens.

Of the artists profiled in Music Outside, Evan Parker is the most active and continues working with and supporting new performers and new ideas. He appears often in Music Further Outside, notably as a collaborator of Pat Thomas and Richard Barrett, a founder of the London Improvisers Orchestra, and a guest soloist at the first Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra concert. However, his views on Brexit and COVID are not discussed. Parker supported Brexit, mostly based on left-wing arguments about globalization undermining labor and environmental protections. Listeners at the 2016 International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation Colloquium seemed startled when Parker took this position in his keynote address, but no one there challenged him, likely understanding his reasoning even if they disagreed with his conclusion. Four years later Parker not only opposed the COVID vaccine but promoted some disturbing conspiracy theories related to the pandemic. He dedicated albums to so-called "rebel scientists" who argue that COVID either doesn't exist or was either intentionally created to reduce the population and that HIV doesn't cause AIDS and literally brought these views on stage with him by using recordings of their speeches in his performances. Parker's place in the history of this music is secure, through both his playing and his work as a mentor, but his status gives him a platform, even if it is one within a small and marginal community, and his use of that platform should be part of future histories of UK creative music during the pandemic.

Shoemaker does not attempt to draw general conclusions about the effects of Brexit or COVID on his subjects or on the creative music scene, but rather uses those events as period markers. His chapters are dated and appear in chronological order, from June 2019 to March 2022, with the preface dated December 2022 and an epilogue bringing all the profiles up to that date. COVID becomes a progressively greater presence. but the enveloping narrative is mostly confined to the preface and epilogue. The focus stays on his subjects, presenting their stories in context, rather than using them as case studies of the effects of Brexit and the pandemic. This is important work, done well, and is recommended to all fans of improvised and experimental music.

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