Saturday, May 18, 2002

Wayne's Words

A veteran rock critic tries cutting out the middle man, offering opinions on pop music, culture, media and society.

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Kenny Garrett
(Warner Bros.)

by Wayne Robins

During the decades when i was a full-time rock critic, jazz was often the music I craved to get away from "the office." Back in the sixties, W. 8th St. in Greenwich Village was lined with record shops that would sell cut-rate jazz albums, so a five dollar bill might allow me to bring home a Miles, a Monk, and a Mingus. There was Mongo Santamaria and Cal Tjader for the Afro-latin pulse of hot city nights. Feeling frisky and risky, you could allow your impulses to try some of the more challenging Impulse! artists on for size: Coltrane, of course, but also Albert Ayler and my favorite, Pharaoh Sanders, whose mind-bending and beautifully rendered "Tauhid" satisfied our late night stoner cravings at Bard College's Stone Row dorms the way a visit from "The Sandwich Man" did for the midnight munchies.

Having been exposed to so much great bop, free improvisation, and latin jazz as a teenager, I drifted away from jazz as it drifted away from me shortly after Miles Davis perfected the invention of fusion with "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner." (One of my obsessive laments is that Jimi Hendrix' untimely death brought to an end any hopes of a much rumored collaboration with Miles bearing any fruit). But fusion added the "ka-ching" of the cash register to the rhythm section of too many underpaid jazz musicians, and while I couldn't argue with their going for the gold, I didn't have to dig it. And I didn't. (One of those great albums I bought on Eighth Street back in the 1960's was trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's "Backlash" on Atlantic, a prophetic title considering what happened to Hubbard's rep when he wandered too far down sell out street).

All of this is a kind of explanation about why when I heard Kenny Garrett's "Happy People," released this spring on Warner Bros. Records., I was under the mistaken notion that it was quite an accomplishment for a first or second album. Actually, "Happy People" marks an even dozen albums with Garrett, an alto and soprano sax player, as leader since 1984. And the Detroit native been kicking around before that, playing with The Duke Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, and then making Mingus music with the Dannie Richmond Quartet. Later, he played with Miles himself, as well as Art Blakey and--get this--a Bethel reputationally rehabilitated Freddie Hubbard.

My bad, but his good. All but one of the 11 tracks (produced by Garrett and Marcus Miller) were written by Garrett. There's an emphasis on Asian influences: "Song for DiFang" has Taiwanese roots, "Song #8" and many others have subtle Japanese touches; and the "Arirang" section of "Asian Medley" is based on a traditional Korean tune.

Being a nut for well-played vibes, Bobby Hutcherson elevates the four tunes on which he appears, especially the bustling "Thessalonika," the rich ballad "Halima's Story," and the benign Thelonious assault of "Monk-ing Around." My quibble with the disc is that in the tension between Marcus Miller's studio perfectionism and Garrett's inclination to spontaneity, the tipping point goes Miller's way and the the edge of excitement loses to excessive refinement. Still, I'm more than glad to have made belated acquaintance with Garrett, and fully expect to be blown away by his lucky thirteenth.
(c) Wayne Robins 2002. All rights reserved. Comments?

.: posted by Wayne Robins Saturday, May 18, 2002

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

[5/15/2002 3:31:10 PM | Wayne Robins]

by Wayne Robins

Blogging is not a commitment to be taken lightly. I can see skipping a day once in a
while, but if you're going to Weblog, you've got to keep it regular. Wayne's Words
skipped last week, and my apologies to the tens of people who count on it for
information, illumination, entertainment, or because I beg you to take a look.

But though I thought of my blog many times each day, I suffered from Bloggers Block:
The inability to write and post in a timely manner. I was talking about this last night
(May 14) with Nick Denton.a Web logger of no small accomplishment himself. A former
reporter for The Financial Times and The Economist, Nick exiled himself from his native
England to San Francisco, where he was a co-founder of, one of the more
innovative news search engines. Having found "supposedly cosmopolitan" San Francisco
overrated (read his column at which is also his Web site and
blog), Nick has moved to New York City for his latest venture...which, if you go to his
site, has a great deal to do with Blogging.

Some of my thoughts on our discussion:

1) The mainstream press (starting from Alex Beam's notorious anti-blog slag in the
Boston Globe) to Howard Kurtz's far more polite examination of the phenom in the
Washington Post, have aided and abetted blogging as a fad sure to hit critical mass
sooner rather than later.

2) Andrew Sullivan has become a kind of human Rorschach test for both blog world and
politics of every kind: right/left politics, gay/straight politics, the politics of
self-aggrandizement. (Never mind celebrity women boxing: I'd pay to watch Sullivan and
Eric Alterman simply sitting in a bare room with no food, no cigarettes, no conveniences
of any kind, with just a camera and microphone, and see what develops).

3) Inevitable burnout and mega-clutter aside, we may find in five or ten years that
blogging has changed the world, or at least the media world, in ways we haven't

4) Having a blog can keenly focus the mind. We each carry notebooks in which we are
constantly jotting down ideas for thoughts, topics, items on which we want to expound
on our blogs.

5) That sooner, rather than later, I will have to make good my promise to add links so
my own blog can be more multilateral.

Right now Weblogging is the ham radio of the Internet. Ham is an extrapolation of the
phrase Amateur Radio. Anyone with the equipment and a license can operate his or her
own shortwave radio station and converse with other hams. Though an avid short wave
listener at times (I still have the Hallicrafters S-108 receiver I used during my brief period
as a ham, between Little League and puberty, years ago), I was quickly bored by
conversing about signal strength ("you're 5-9 here in New York, Chuck,") the weather,
and one's "rig" (transmitter, receiver, antenna, microphone) with other hams, about 95
per cent of whom appeared to be retired military personnel living in Florida. Politics used
to be verboten in ham radio: Now when I scan the ham bands, I hear too many retired
dullwits in search of their own inner Rush Limbaugh. The blog world is the same, but you
don't need a license, although somehow I doubt that the FCC, responsible for
enforcement, gives any more of a damn about ham radio rules than it does about
enforcing any other regulations. With radio, of course, you can just turn the dial. Online,
of course, all you need to do
(c) Wayne Robins, 2002, all rights reserved. Comments?

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