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CJ Shearn

Bob James' One and the problem of jazz critics

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https://jazzviewswithcj.tumblr.com/post/670821728528875520/shizukas-mind-bob-james-one-ctitappan-zee

Something utterly random I wrote after listening to the SACD of BJ One earlier which I got myself as a Christmas present.  I think some of the points I make are valid in terms of closed mindedness when it comes to critics and this kind of music, and that it has a resonance for folks generations after the fact.  And of course, I've never considered Scott Yanow, Thom Jurek or any AMG writer to be a barometer for music relevance.  Enjoy.

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CJ,

I completely agree with your point that the "received wisdom" about what constitutes valid jazz often has been woefully narrow.

However, I think that sort of perspective is far less tenable now than it has been in the past.  Of course, there are still traditionalists and there are still avant-gardists -- and everything in between. But the either/or clashes seem to have given way to something that's more open-ended and less rigid. ... Or maybe it's just that jazz has moved so far into the margins of culture -- and it's economic power is so diminished -- that no one has the impetus or desire to argue about it any more.

Either way, those old narratives seem to be breaking down.  Or at least I think they are.

There's room enough for many, many different perspectives at the table.  And there's no need for any one person or group to "own" the narrative.  

That's my take.

 

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I disagree with none of the points made in the article. But I still have not warmed to those Bob James records. Come to appreciate them as the accomplishments they are, but do I really want to listen to any of them...not particularly. They're like hard answers to easy questions, or vice-versa. something...I appreciate that the imbalance is what allows the ideas to penetrate to a wider audience, but for myself, I like balance (ultimately...immediately, I can get suckered as easily as anybody on superficials, possible easier than most, actually), the feeling that the answers and the questions are being addressed equally. Sure sometimes that means a toning down or an amping up, but that's the difference between an artist and a skilled craftsman - realizing that duality between question and answer, and the proceeding accordingly, in balance of intent and execution.

I still like this one, though. It's balanced within itself.

Let's here it for knowing what a hook is for, and what to do with it, growing it, but not killing it by asking it to do more than it can handle. Balance.

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1 hour ago, HutchFan said:

CJ,

I completely agree with your point that the "received wisdom" about what constitutes valid jazz often has been woefully narrow.

However, I think that sort of perspective is far less tenable now than it has been in the past.  Of course, there are still traditionalists and there are still avant-gardists -- and everything in between. But the either/or clashes seem to have given way to something that's more open-ended and less rigid. ... Or maybe it's just that jazz has moved so far into the margins of culture -- and it's economic power is so diminished -- that no one has the impetus or desire to argue about it any more.

Either way, those old narratives seem to be breaking down.  Or at least I think they are.

There's room enough for many, many different perspectives at the table.  And there's no need for any one person or group to "own" the narrative.  

That's my take.

 

Definitely many perspectives should be considered

1 hour ago, HutchFan said:

CJ,

I completely agree with your point that the "received wisdom" about what constitutes valid jazz often has been woefully narrow.

However, I think that sort of perspective is far less tenable now than it has been in the past.  Of course, there are still traditionalists and there are still avant-gardists -- and everything in between. But the either/or clashes seem to have given way to something that's more open-ended and less rigid. ... Or maybe it's just that jazz has moved so far into the margins of culture -- and it's economic power is so diminished -- that no one has the impetus or desire to argue about it any more.

Either way, those old narratives seem to be breaking down.  Or at least I think they are.

There's room enough for many, many different perspectives at the table.  And there's no need for any one person or group to "own" the narrative.  

That's my take.

 

Yes, all of that is true there is much more open mindedness now then before but it seems like social media always is regurgitating a critic like Gary Giddins or Ashley Kahn or Howard Mandel (who I lost all respect for when he claimed ECM wasn't jazz) they are all part of the old guard. As a writer definitely I was influenced early on by Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler but really to me it still represents an old way of thinking.  Hopefully I can turn more people of my generation and younger. I'm even gonna go outside of jazz 

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Bob James and C.T.I. quickly became boring for me back in the 70s. The Fender Rhodes was interesting when I first heard it, but I am sick.of its generic sound and I never want to hear one again. Bill Evans disliked it, saying that it lacks touch.

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23 minutes ago, CJ Shearn said:

... but it seems like social media always is regurgitating a critic like Gary Giddins..

 

... who I recently saw talking about Tab Hunter in a bio-doc about same.

Crosby, not really a surprise, but Tab Hunter?

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1 hour ago, JSngry said:

I disagree with none of the points made in the article. But I still have not warmed to those Bob James records. 

I don't particularly like those records either.  :P   But CJ's larger point still stands.

IMO, it's 100% right-on for a critic (or anyone else) to say, "I don't like that music because reason X, Y, or Z." Because that statement acknowledges the personal and the subjective that's part-and-parcel of the assessment.

It's different when a critic (or anyone else) says, "That's bad music because reason X, Y, or Z."  Because that's a statement about power.  That is, "I get to decide what's good."  Critcs -- and others who are trying to be "gatekeepers" -- act as if they have some sort of authority that they don't possess.  And, as often as not, the critic is making judgments based on criteria that don't align with the artist's goals and desires.

Ellington made this same point when he said that critics often forget that it's not their job to tell the artist what to do; it's their job to describe what the artist has done.

 

Edited by HutchFan

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But Garry Giddins, why Tab Hunter? That threw me for a loop from which I am still somewhat looping!

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3 hours ago, HutchFan said:

I don't particularly like those records either.  :P   But CJ's larger point still stands.

IMO, it's 100% right-on for a critic (or anyone else) to say, "I don't like that music because reason X, Y, or Z." Because that statement acknowledges the personal and the subjective that's part-and-parcel of the assessment.

It's different when a critic (or anyone else) says, "That's bad music because reason X, Y, or Z."  Because that's a statement about power.  That is, "I get to decide what's good."  Critcs -- and others who are trying to be "gatekeepers" -- act as if they have some sort of authority that they don't possess.  And, as often as not, the critic is making judgments based on criteria that don't align with the artist's goals and desires.

Ellington made this same point when he said that critics often forget that it's not their job to tell the artist what to do; it's their job to describe what the artist has done.

 

That thing about "power": Yanow's review, much less a review than a statement (common with him) he seems to already have an agenda against James at the outset, so it's already flawed.  Just like statements in various reviews for Bobby Hutcherson's Knucklebean about "it's a relief to hear Hubbard playing jazz again" (I mean, the fuck? Did he actually ever stop? Yes the Columbia's were super commercial, but videos from that area say otherwise) or things he said about Herbie and Chick "returning" to acoustic piano... I mean I have listened to Herbie's Columbia's since I have that set, many times and the acoustic piano still has prominence, even on the funky stuff.  Those statements are more about "I don't like it" than actually about music.  My writing, if people like it, cool, if you don't that's cool too.  My writing is about the music, less about "me".  Yanow is very much a gatekeeper to an inflexible narrative, and the way he jetted from this place many years proves that.  I ignore his writing, it's just I curiously searched the AMG review.  Someone gave me a copy of his book Bebop, I skimmed it,  but it just collects dust, I'll probably donate it to my local library.

Edited by CJ Shearn

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23 minutes ago, CJ Shearn said:

That thing about "power": Yanow's review, must less a review than a statement (common with him) he seems to already have an agenda against James at the outset, so it's already flawed.  Just like statements in various reviews for Bobby Hutcherson's Knucklebean about "it's a relief to hear Hubbard playing jazz again" (I mean, the fuck? Did he actually ever stop? Yes the Columbia's were super commercial, but videos from that area say otherwise) or things he said about Herbie and Chick "returning" to acoustic piano... I mean I have listened to Herbie's Columbia's since I have that set, many times and the acoustic piano still has prominence, even on the funky stuff.  Those statements are more about "I don't like it" than actually about music.  My writing, if people like it, cool, if you don't that's cool too.  My writing is about the music, less about "me".  Yanow is very much a gatekeeper to an inflexible narrative, and the way he jetted from this place many years proves that.  I ignore his writing, it's just I curiously searched the AMG review.  Someone gave me a copy of his book Bebop, I skimmed it,  but it just collects dust, I'll probably donate it to my local library.

I agree in principle. But in Yanow's case, so many of his AMG reviews are clearly perfunctory that I hesitate to interpret them deeply or search for ulterior motives.

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34 minutes ago, T.D. said:

I agree in principle. But in Yanow's case, so many of his AMG reviews are clearly perfunctory that I hesitate to interpret them deeply or search for ulterior motives.

That is very true.

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The thing is...Bob James has a lot of history, a lot of tools, a lot of previous life prior to his CTI stuff. I didn't know about that until I found the ESP LPs in a bin ca. 1978 or so, after which the preconceptions had become more or less entrenched. So a piece like "Nautilus" seemed to me then - and still does, to a certain extent, like a music more of devices than of substance, not unlike a lot of TV/Film scoring. But the gradual "uncovering" of James' past got me to realize that these were not the devices of a dilettante, this guy had real skills, and he was making choices...a lot of choices, many of which involved career and marketplace. But he was positioned to make those choices and follow through on them. That in and of itself is a talent, a skill. And not just anybody can get to the place to even begin to entertain their options. So

Of course, times change, experiences changes lives, and changing lives can/should lead to evolving minds, and evolving minds to evolving musics.So, you know, I don't haven't exactly ran away from hip=hop and sampling, and I start hearing some of this shit and realizing, oh, THAT'S what it is, and, wow, they heard something in that that I never heard, and they were able to build with and from it. That's pretty cool, imo, the difference between a creative band covering a tune and just being a cover band. One is extending the past, the other just copying it (for whatever reasons...).

IMO, the knee-jerk shit like Yanow's is just corny, period. Nothing is that simple, except to a simple mind (or a cynical one looking for marks). Let's not give it too much credit - it's just plain corny.

Stay the course on that one.

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4 hours ago, Shrdlu said:

Bob James and C.T.I. quickly became boring for me back in the 70s. 

I like many of the pre-disco CTI records, up until around 1974, if they had either Don Sebesky or Deodato involvement.  But I never liked those Bob James CTI records.  They are proto-smooth jazz, and I think they led to a CTI stereotype that did not apply to many of those pre-disco CTI albums. 

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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Back in the late 70s I had a lot o Bob James, Earl Klugh, Hubert Laws and the like. Liked the stuff but that’s before I was interested in jazz.  Just smooth jazz or proto smooth as TTK says.

Some may not like Yanow but I like his reviews.  He’s disposed against James. So? 

Edited by Brad

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18 minutes ago, Brad said:

Back in the late 70s I had a lot o Bob James, Earl Klugh, Hubert Laws and the like. Liked the stuff but that’s before I was interested in jazz.  Just smooth jazz or proto smooth as TTK says.

But many of those CTI albums were not smooth jazz.  Especially the ones with two long tracks per side that featured introspective, hallucinogenic, delirious grooves.  

Edited by Teasing the Korean

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The ones I listened to were from Red River, Warner and Koch. By 1980 I had moved on. Actually, until about 1988 I didn’t listen to much music. 

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5 minutes ago, Brad said:

The ones I listened to were from Red River, Warner and Koch. By 1980 I had moved on. Actually, until about 1988 I didn’t listen to much music. 

I didn't listen to any CTI in the 1980s.  I started buying them at a buck a throw in the 1990s.  They fit in well with the turn-of-the-millennium vibe.

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I think that Bob James was originally  a CTI niche more than a formula. The contrast between him and Sebesky was immediately apparent (and in my case, equally immediately not enjoyed) 

James was kind of a double agent, doing both Kudu and CTI. Grover was Kudu.  James was CTI, but his records frequently leaned Kudu..except when they didn't.

Whatever one thinks about the choices and the results, I think that objectively, the ingredients they (CTI) were throwing into the mix were far from homogenous. If Creed Taylor created the illusion that it was, that was likely his intent.

And then sadly, it was no longer an illusion.

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1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

But many of those CTI albums were not smooth jazz.  Especially the ones with two long tracks per side that featured introspective, hallucinogenic, delirious grooves.  

1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I didn't listen to any CTI in the 1980s.  I started buying them at a buck a throw in the 1990s.  They fit in well with the turn-of-the-millennium vibe.

1 hour ago, Teasing the Korean said:

But many of those CTI albums were not smooth jazz.  Especially the ones with two long tracks per side that featured introspective, hallucinogenic, delirious grooves.  

7 hours ago, HutchFan said:

CJ,

I completely agree with your point that the "received wisdom" about what constitutes valid jazz often has been woefully narrow.

However, I think that sort of perspective is far less tenable now than it has been in the past.  Of course, there are still traditionalists and there are still avant-gardists -- and everything in between. But the either/or clashes seem to have given way to something that's more open-ended and less rigid. ... Or maybe it's just that jazz has moved so far into the margins of culture -- and it's economic power is so diminished -- that no one has the impetus or desire to argue about it any more.

Either way, those old narratives seem to be breaking down.  Or at least I think they are.

There's room enough for many, many different perspectives at the table.  And there's no need for any one person or group to "own" the narrative.  

That's my take.

 

Definitely many perspectives should be considered

7 hours ago, HutchFan said:

CJ,

I completely agree with your point that the "received wisdom" about what constitutes valid jazz often has been woefully narrow.

However, I think that sort of perspective is far less tenable now than it has been in the past.  Of course, there are still traditionalists and there are still avant-gardists -- and everything in between. But the either/or clashes seem to have given way to something that's more open-ended and less rigid. ... Or maybe it's just that jazz has moved so far into the margins of culture -- and it's economic power is so diminished -- that no one has the impetus or desire to argue about it any more.

Either way, those old narratives seem to be breaking down.  Or at least I think they are.

There's room enough for many, many different perspectives at the table.  And there's no need for any one person or group to "own" the narrative.  

That's my take.


 

Yes... many of those CTI'S are not smooth in the least. Now once we get to David Matthews as arranger, that's where things get SUPER generic. There was an interview I read with Marcus Miller once, he said at first he thought Bob James was Black without seeing his picture which was really funny and quite a compliment. His arrangement of "Don't Mess With Mr. T" then using the same material for Grover's Soul Box is masterful IMO

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14 minutes ago, CJ Shearn said:

Now once we get to David Matthews as arranger, that's where things get SUPER generic. 

There ya' go.

The Urbie Green records were pretty nice, though, so go figure. Maybe he was just following orders.

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CTI was never a label I explored in any depth, the dominant music on the label just didn't interest me. I have never been a big fan of electric piano, in most cases, I feel like it is a poor substitute for a grand piano. Bob James' electric piano in the Mulligan/Baker Carnegie Hall Reunion is a major disappointment for me. But there are times where the softer sound of an electric piano fits the song or arrangement better.

But then again, when I started reviewing jazz, I didn't review CTI stuff, even if some CD reissues were sent to me.

I always thought of a review as something to help me decide whether or not I wanted to check out the recording, nothing more. I am not expecting somebody to write 1500 words to describe a single disc, though I used to get a laugh out of those worthless one incomplete sentence AMG reviews by their first jazz editor ("Trio recording live at the Village Vanguard") that were worthless.

5 hours ago, CJ Shearn said:

That thing about "power": Yanow's review, much less a review than a statement (common with him) he seems to already have an agenda against James at the outset, so it's already flawed.  Just like statements in various reviews for Bobby Hutcherson's Knucklebean about "it's a relief to hear Hubbard playing jazz again" (I mean, the fuck? Did he actually ever stop? Yes the Columbia's were super commercial, but videos from that area say otherwise) or things he said about Herbie and Chick "returning" to acoustic piano... I mean I have listened to Herbie's Columbia's since I have that set, many times and the acoustic piano still has prominence, even on the funky stuff.  Those statements are more about "I don't like it" than actually about music.  My writing, if people like it, cool, if you don't that's cool too.  My writing is about the music, less about "me".  Yanow is very much a gatekeeper to an inflexible narrative, and the way he jetted from this place many years proves that.  I ignore his writing, it's just I curiously searched the AMG review.  Someone gave me a copy of his book Bebop, I skimmed it,  but it just collects dust, I'll probably donate it to my local library.

Norman Granz quoted Freddie Hubbard in a conversation they had at an English jazz festival where the trumpeter mentioned that he wanted to record with Oscar Peterson, "To get back to playing some real jazz and not this shit I'm into now," as it appears in the liner notes to the Pablo albums Trumpet Summit and Alternate Blues, all music from a session on March 10, 1980. The rest of the musicians included Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Ray Brown and Bobby Durham. 

Edited by Ken Dryden

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Thanks for the link.  different perspective from mine, but one that it'll probably do me some good to consider.  Yanow is a hack.

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I don't file CTI albums in the jazz section.  I file them in the Now Sound section.  That is what they are, and that is how they should be evaluated.  

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I file CTI albums in the CTI section.

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2 hours ago, Teasing the Korean said:

I don't file CTI albums in the jazz section.  I file them in the Now Sound section. 

Also the early A&M/CTI albums? 

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