Monday, 3 December 2007

Jazz Devil

Okay, I’ll admit, I didn’t go to Uni last week. Not because I was still struggling with a heavy cold, but because I was in London to see a two night show by the awesome Barry Adamson.

I’ve been listening to Adamson since I was fifteen (yes, that’s nearly twenty years. Yes, I bought his first album on cassette, and, yes, we had electricity in those days. Smart-arse), and ever since I’ve loved the unique combination of narratives (Vermillion Kisses, A Gentle Man of Colour, Here in the Hole etc), instrumentals (The Man With a Golden Arm, Checkpoint Charlie etc) and flamboyant, clever songs (Here Am I, Can’t Get Loose et al) a new Barry Adamson album presents. He’s always been on my ‘Wish-list’ of artists I wanted to see live, so you can imagine how excited I was.

Unfortunately, before Mister Adamson came on stage, we had to sit through the support act. Now, as Barry quite likes—and is influenced by—jazz, he had a jazz four-piece as his support. I just don’t get jazz, and my opinion of it can be summed up with the following quote from Otis Lee Crenshaw: “I fuckin’ hate jazz. Jazz is what you get when you push a blues quartet down a flight of stairs.”. To me it belongs in the same category as poetry. What’s the point? To me, it’s just laziness and an inability to construct something with a beginning, middle and end. Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe I’m just opinionated, ignorant and blinkered…

I have no idea if this particular quartet was good or not, but the audience seemed to appreciate it. The only thing I could say for certain was the drummer needs to get laid. I have never seen a man look more orgasmic hitting some pig-skin with a stick. He hit every single irregular beat like it was some sort of money shot, and he got so carried away that, at one point, the bassist had to slap him to stop the poor lad from jazzing all over the sax solo.

Finally (thankfully), the support vacated the stage, the Ron Jeremy/Dave Grohl amalgam on drums so bereft he had a tear in his eye, and Barry Adamson’s show got under way.

The first of two nights, this first evening was split into a sampling of tracks from his new album, and a small collection of his older stuff—and jolly good it was too. He had a tremendous band, and keyboardist Nick Plytas blew me away. Never mind this writing crap—that’s what you call talent.

It was, as these things always are, over too quickly. I enjoyed it tremendously, but that leaves me with an odd dilemma. The jazz influences on Adamson’s work are so obvious as to be glaring, but why do I enjoy his music and not, say, John Coltrane or Sunny Rollins?

Part of me knows the answer: Adamson’s music is very narrative, there’s a definite beginning, middle, and end, whereas most jazz I’ve encountered (and I grew up with jazz, as my Grandfather was a clarinet player in a jazz band and had more jazz records than God) seems so directionless and meandering. I’ve already made the analogy between jazz and poetry and—although I like Blake because he has a fierce, javelin narrative that rattles through a story at a breathless pace—most poetry I know just seems to sit with its hands in its lap lamenting this or observing that and being so awfully clever—and I hate being talked down to. By anybody.

With Adamson, however (as with Blake), I don’t feel patronised. I feel like I’m being entertained, like I’m being invited into a story or piece of music and shown something secret and shiny, as opposed to being told “I’m clever, and you’re base. You can’t understand my work. Go back to your workhouse, plebeian,” by some poet or jazz wanker. Anybody who’s read my work knows there’s nothing clever or highbrow about it—it’s straight cut adventure with some neat characters and no heirs and graces.

With this in mind, I left the concert that evening looking forward to the following nights performance. Entitled “These Are a Few of My Favourite Themes”, it was labelled as a collection of Adamson’s favourite TV and movie instrumentals, with some of his own cinema work thrown in as well. More than that, however, after the concert he would be reciting a short story he had written. Having, for many years, admired the narratives on his albums, I was looking forward to this a great deal.

Little did I know how much it would challenge my perceptions of story telling, jazz, and poetry...

No comments: