“Missing the Sound of Surprise” – a response

Dominic Williams reflects on Jon Turney’s entertaining piece on “Missing the Sound of Surprise” and on how it set him off thinking in several directions about live music, audience involvement, and discovering new artists in a lockdown:

There is quite a generational gap in the way people listen to music, jazz in particular. If you are mature in years (like Jon and me, I guess) the concert/record combo is still the most common way to find the music you want. If you are younger (and possibly hard-up, like a lot of young jazz musicians) there is a whole lot of free digital stuff out there, admittedly of varying quality. 

Some of it fits loosely under the “promo video” label, often footage of the artist playing in the studio or someone’s flat. Videos of radio station performances are also a good bet because the sound quality is usually good. A lot of other material is informal snippets: a band rehearsing; a stripped down acoustic version of a tune; a snatch of a song half-way through composition. They might not have the polished formality of a concert or a professional recording, but in some ways these snapshots of fleeting moments are closer to the spirit of jazz, even if they don’t make for great listicles. The trouble is, of course, if you are too old to have the right Facebook friends, you are probably dependent on someone young to tell you about them.

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As Jon says, livestreaming from home has a long way to go (see also Sam Leak’s “Jazz in the Time of Coronavirus”) but I loved the Rob Luft and Elina Duni “Love is the Dancer” livestream. They forgot to turn the mic on for a couple of minutes and the picture is fuzzy throughout but, when the music is good enough, it doesn’t matter.  If you must insist on high production values, then try their promo video for “Couleur Café” instead.

Everyone has a different idea of what makes a good gig – for some people, comfy seats and a glass of wine at the interval are essential, which at least you can guarantee watching YouTube at home. I liked Jon’s criteria but he did say: “There needs to be a sense of the audience, too, and not just a leader smiling out into the darkness of a concert hall and remarking amiably that they can’t see anyone. You need to get something of the listeners reacting to the music, and vice versa.”  Given how many artists rely on mumbled self-deprecation, weak puns and an off-colour joke, that’s a high standard to set.


Carmen Souza

My own list of favourites has varying degrees of audience involvement:

Carmen Souza (pictured above) – Live at Lagny Festival  is fun and does meet the audience involvement criterion (always easier for a singer, admittedly).

Carla Bley/Steve SwallowLawns. In a blog post, Jon had already bagged the Bley trio performing “Utviklingssang” so I’ll take this. Slightly fuzzy images and uneven sound, but again, it doesn’t matter because the music is so good.

John TaylorFedora. One of the austere but wonderful Hampstead Arts Festival recordings of John Taylor playing solo in a church, with his back half-turned to the audience. I know it breaks Jon’s rule that the performer should still be alive, but if you haven’t seen it, you should. It is tinged with regret for me because I would have been there in person had I not had to watch my daughter perform in an abbreviated Shakespeare competition for schools. One’s children don’t appreciate half the sacrifices one makes for them.

Anouar BrahemLa Nuit. Recorded in Paris but I can testify the Barbican set had the same atmosphere – minimal audience involvement, great musicianship and the contrast between Brahem’s restrained playing and the freewheeling approach of Django Bates adds tension.

One last thought – much of the best concert footage seems to be shot at European jazz festivals. Is there a reason why we haven’t done more of it in this country?

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