Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oblivion & Nostalgia

There are people who will tell you that the 1960s were all about "flower power" and that they are now "into meditation". They also have a concept of "jazz" that emphasizes "improvisation". Tonight I suddenly had an occasion to vividly elucidate this insipid construct.

A friend of mine came over for dinner and we spent the night listening to music and discussing various subjects. We heard Lee Morgan, Bobby Hutcherson, Andrew Hill, John Coltrane. Then, as he was about to leave, I had an inspiration.

We had been listening to some of the finest music of the 1960s. What would happen if we put on Keith Jarrett's Köln Concert from 1975? I got it out and we had a listen. Its insipidness (insipidity?) was painfully obvious. To test it, we put on Kind of Blue, also an "improvised" performance, but recorded before the sixties began, and we heard, again, the qualities of Morgan, Hutcherson, Hill, etc., in a, let us say, "pure" form.

I have nothing against Keith Jarrett as such. I am interested in the reception of that one particular album. It is so obviously inferior to the period that, if tradition means anything, produced it. And yet there is a kind of person, one that most eagerly identifies with "the sixties", who swears by the greatness of that mediocrity. Set against any number of albums—Sonic Boom, Stick Up!, Black Fire—it is simply devoid of content. Empty. And it is in that emptiness that certain survivors of the 1960s find their repose.

The Köln Concert is not a master work. It is the touchstone of a generation that is trying to forget something. Trying very, very hard to forget it. And hoping against hope that a generation to come won't hit on the truth.

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