So, Stephen Bett has been
influenced by 'the counter tradition of Black Mountain, the San Francisco
Renaissance, and the New York School (1st and 2nd
generations), and how that played out in Canada with the TISH poets, and
beyond.' Who'd've thought
there was anything left beyond after that lot? And, yes, Bett lives in Vancouver.
Question: But, how do these influences manifest themselves?
Answer: In a paring down of language to its barest minimum to convey the
sense of his emotional responses to the music of seventy-eight alphabetically
presented US and European jazz musicians, and the odd band... of course.
Bett has even thoughtfully split them up into four sections, representing the
four sides of a double album. Clever stuff!
The first 'side', subtitled 'open us up', starts with John Abercrombie and
continues from there, reeling off a roll-call of largely contemporary
jazzers, most you'll have heard of, others not. At first there are a few
pieces that could easily have set the tone for the whole collection... i.e.
sycophantic brown-nosing (yes, he has sent some of the musicians 'their'
poems). Fortunately, though, by
the eighth piece, half way through this first 'side', there's something of a
feint negativity starting to appear by the time it's Paul Bley's turn to be
Never been into him
Even when stroking
OK, we get it
The peacock and the motian do, of course, refer to Gary and Paul. But, it's
Bley, himself, who's the undefined problem for Bett. Still, at least it's
honest, even if that then leaves me wondering if there was any real benefit
to be had from including it, beyond making clever cryptic references or,
simply, just to provide an extra bit of name-dropping. All this is equally
true of Lenny Breau, the only other piece on the first 'side' that gives its
subject a bit of a kicking.
Though, I suppose two out of fourteen isn't too bad.
'Side' two... (bring it)... Chick Corea gets a slagging... Miles Davis' career
erroneously, '...started so very / long ago kind / of blue'... and things being 'tr¸s nice' and 'tr¸s cool' while all the time being completely trop... and, really, quite a lot of the rest is clichˇ,
right down to Jan Garbarek being 'Nordic / icy / glacial', and crass little
in-joke references... and then an arse-lick for Keith Jarrett, just to round
things off. I'd been hoping for
something better than this... never judge a book by its cover-notes... Oh,
God! Still another two sides to
Here goes... 'Side' three... (not zen)... no, definitely not zen, but, with it, a
limerick... yes, a limerick! How un-zen can this guy get?
There was a young jazzer
Who stood still at the
end of a gorge
But when he hit a hi C
He sound (sic) a bit like
Nailing notes in an empty
[from 'Lage Lund Quartet']
Classic! (Not!) And to think Bett has the gall to
call John McLaughlin '...just another / New Agey? / over the hilly?', while any
jazzers under a certain age are referred to in the patronising tones of
someone more used to pipe and slippers at the fireside. What's he on? I want
The final 'side', (live alone) only brings me the pleasure of knowing it's
the last. This is the place
where 'Funk meets almost at flamenco / meets wah wah pop / a strange, but
neck- / gripping hybrid'. It is
the place for 'Seriously whimsical / composition'. This is the place where
the term 'Nordic' can be so confusing for a Canadian struggling to locate
Sweden. This is the place where, at least, Bett got Trevor Watts right...
Mesmerising & full
to the last drop.
[from 'Trevor Watts']
So, finally, having survived all four sides of what has so often seemed
genuinely like 'it's all corn / on speed', it's time to sit back, relieved,
and ponder on why I've just received it for review now, half way through
2015, although it was published way back in 2013. Actually, now I think about
it, it doesn't matter, because, whatever the reason, it's good news as it
means that you should be able to pick up a copy in your local remainders book
shop by now. Or my copy from Barnardo's tomorrow. That's always assuming
you'd be willing to give it shelf-space.
© John Mingay