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Music Is Rapid Transportation...From The Beatles To Xenakis

Chris May By
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Music Is Rapid Transportation...From The Beatles To Xenakis

Editor: Daniel Kernohan

Paperback; 280 pages

ISBN: 9781895166047

Chavari Press

2010

Music Is Rapid Transportation...From The Beatles To Xenakis is a book many jazz fans would probably like to write. It is, basically, a list of favorite albums. Or rather, seven lists, long ones, put together by a network of Canadian-based enthusiasts. If the current gender stereotype for list-makers is accurate, it is a book that male jazz fans in particular would like to write, and, indeed, the seven literary contributors—who, in the words of the book's editor, Daniel Kernohan, are mostly "aging baby boomers"—are all men: Lawrence Joseph, Dan Lander, Donal McGraith, Bill Smith, Alan Stanbridge, Scott Thomson and Vern Weber. So are the photographers: Gordon Bowbrick and Herb Greenslade. And the editor. (Just saying).

Unlike most books built on lists, Music Is Rapid Transportation also contains a weight of discursive content over its 280 large format pages. The lists themselves (each album is given by artist, title and label) take up just 35 pages towards the end, following musico-biographical essays by some of the writers and 126 pages of "Musical Epiphanies," formative and/or sublime listening experiences remembered by all seven. Each of the epiphanies is followed by a paragraph titled "Connections," which suggests further, related listening. Put all this together, writes Kernohan, and you have much more than a list-based book, and instead a collection of "listening autobiographies."

For jazz-focused readers of a certain generation, there are few surprises among the authors' best-loved musicians. Across the book, the most cited musicians are, at a rough count, reed players John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker and Evan Parker; guitarists Derek Bailey and Fred Frith; pianists Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor; bassists Charles Mingus and William Parker; composer John Cage; and the groups Art Ensemble Of Chicago, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

Around the edges, of course, many less prominent musicians are cited, in the biographical essays, "Connections" or the lists of albums themselves. But even taking these into account, only newbies are likely to come across many musicians or albums which are new to them. And—an observation rather than a criticism—the gestalt is overwhelming North American and European: "world music," unless mediated through musicians such as saxophonist Dudu Pukwana or multi-instrumentalist Don Cherry, seems either to have passed these guys by or has failed to make many deep impacts on them.

The most enjoyable section of the book is "Musical Epiphanies," in each of which the writers describe, over a page or so, an album or performance which was then, and is still now, especially important to them. It is in these pages, and in the biographical essays, that the life-long passions for music which produced Music Is Rapid Transportation become vivid and the book becomes as much fun to read as it must have been fun to write.

Not only is this a book many jazz fans would probably like to write, it is also a book many jazz fans certainly could write. So, if you feel the urge, get tapping or scribbling, for publication or your own enjoyment.

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