The Other Night at Quinn's: New Adventures In The Sonic Underground
Razorcake / Gorsky Press
In addition to absorbing the sounds on recordings and live performances, the traditional route to an appreciation of jazz and improvised music usually entails seeking out the perspectives and opinions of experts. When diving into the music's deep end as novice listeners we're guided by an abundance of books, magazines, liner notes, websites and blogs that offer views of what is essential, what isn't, and everything in between. We study historical texts in order to get a handle on the music's stylistic evolution, and peruse the biographies of significant figures, seeking a greater understanding of what made them tick. As the years go by and we shape our own convictions, the views of critics, scholars and pundits aren't nearly as important, yet we often continue to read them anyway. If nothing else they serve as a source of new information and oftentimes provide a basis of comparison to our hard-won opinions.
One of the refreshing things about The Other Night at Quinn's
is Mike Faloon's disregard for particulars and perspectives gleaned from the literature on jazz. Faloon forges brilliant, meaningful, and individualistic viewpoints about jazz and improvised musicmostly of the avant-garde and experimental varietyafter his accidental discovery of Quinn's, a former diner, now bar/restaurant and live music venue located in Beacon, NY. He treats every live performance as a discrete entity, stays open to a variety of challenging, unfamiliar sounds and concepts, plays close attention to the details, and draws on his own resources and life experiences in grappling with the music and the scene at Quinn's.
Like most people, Faloon juggles several identities. He's a middle-aged man, son, husband, father, homeowner, public school teacher and man of letters, all of which figure into his narrative. A variety of interests, including movies, comics, baseball and books are also present in virtually every chapter. When Faloon happened upon the performances at Quinn's "my default preferences [in music] were still set to underground pop and punk, melody and brevity, and songwriting above all else. Lengthy improvisations rarely, if ever, entered the equation." (p. ix) Lacking any prior exposure to the artists' recordings or print media accounts of their work, his initial reaction to the abundance of unfamiliar sounds is one of bewilderment and disorientation. Instead of giving up he returns time and time again, taking notes and posting columns online as a means of orienting himself. (p. ix) Not being able to anticipate the sound of each concert becomes a large part of the attraction of Quinn's.
The chapters about the gigs at Quinn's are briefbetween four to seven pages in length. Faloon usually offers a single paragraph, and then employs three asterisks as a means of separating it from the next one. Forging connections between the paragraphs requires a fair amount of interpretative work on the part of the reader. The same can be said about the things Faloon doesn't do. He doesn't preach or over-explain things, doesn't traffic in music theory terminology, and doesn't land on conclusions too quickly, too often, or too hard. For the most part, straightforward portraits of the careers and lives of the musicians and conventional reviews of the performances aren't part of his methods. He prefers to find meaning in uncertainty, getting lost, and losing his bearingsall of which are essential parts of Faloon's experience at Quinn's. "I can see each member of the band but it takes a moment to determine the point of origin, figure out who's making what," he writes of a band called Man Forever. "Eventually I change tactics, taking in the whole rather than untangle the parts." (p. 154)
Faloon is subjective and circuitous, his curiosity and ingenuity knows no bounds, and his commitment is unwavering. Although the words don't always come easily, he never stops seeking the right ones to describe a performance. "I don't have a steady response" to vocalist and violinist Iva Bittova
. "I'm still thinking about the performance, searching for the right words, wishing I shared more of...[a friend's]...certainty and excitement." (p. 175) Although there are instances in which his "inner cynic squirms" (p. 190), Faloon works hard at listening without preconceptions or prejudice. He utilizes each night at Quinn's to mess with, extend, and alter his own perspective. In a chapter about guitarist Ben Monder
he tries to "make sense of something so far beyond our reach, humanize it. All the while marveling more than minimizing" (p. 252)