Saturday, September 27, 2008

In Defense of Criticism

Just for the record, I'm clearly a bit too young to be writing this. I've been doing this (some form of music "journalism" or "criticism-" whatever you want to call it) for about a year in this forum and for various other publications. I wouldn't call myself a professional, although I have been paid for my writing on occasion. That said, I spend an exorbitant amount of time reading criticism in a few different mediums (I like film critics more than jazz critics- they tend to be less interchangeable), and after reading Ambrose Akinmusire's comment about my review his (good, in my opinion) album I feel the need to mount something of a defense of criticism in general, because there are a few reasons that it does (and should) exist.

Music, like film, is a commercial art. CD's are not generally given out for free. When you buy a CD, you're stuck with it whether you wind up enjoying the music or not due to copyright infringement fears on the part of record stores. So when you spend your 15 dollars (!) on an album, it had better be worth it. I try to tailor my reviews for the people I think will like an album; there's a reason I bring up the fact that a Marc Ribot-Anthony Coleman-Brad Jones concert isn't for everyone even though I would have sat through five sets and wanted more. The point isn't to get people to not buy music, but the opposite. I hope that this blog has inspired people to buy CDs that they wound up enjoying. I also hope that they realize that I am not the final (or really any sort of meaningful) authority on jazz, and that there are plenty of other people out there who write about music that have different opinions from me.

Which brings me to my next point: criticism creates a discourse. I like to read a number of reviews from various critics before I go out and see a movie, and I usually reread them after I've seen it to see if someone else's opinion on it can enlighten or clarify my own. I like it when I read something that I disagree with, because sometimes it makes me see the object of criticism in a different light.

The main point that I dislike in the comment is the idea that I don't "get" Mr. Akinmusire's album. I don't say that because I think I understand something profound about the album (or any album), but because I think there are as many ways to "get" a work of art as there are people who listen to that work of art, especially in an art form as esoteric as music. Akinmusire's point about differing experiences and beliefs is a good one; there's a reason that Roger Ebert's reviews often disagree (or disagreed) with those of A.O. Scott, or Manohla Dargis, or Pauline Kael, and why all four of them have occasionally gotten in trouble with the film-makers whose work they have reviewed. I would love to interview Mr. Akinmusire for this blog and have him talk about "Prelude," because it would be interesting to hear what he was thinking when he made his record in his own words.

Either way, those are all just some philosophical thoughts on the nature and point of criticism. Feel free to disagree with them and write about it in the comments section (beware though, in criticizing the very concept of criticism, you are yourself becoming a critic). And I'm serious about the interview. As for whoever reads this and sent Akinmusire the review: thank you! I love it when musicians read my reviews of their stuff and agree/disagree with what I say, and I'm always surprised to find out that anyone actually reads this to begin with. Next time I'll actually have a round-up of some recent free-jazz.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jazz criticism is a strange one. I'm a jazz musician based in London, and by now I know a lot of the UK jazz journalists. They're a pretty mixed bunch; some supportive, some dismissive, some modernist, some traditional, and it becomes part of the job dealing with having to have your art passed through their filters. I'm kind of surprised at Ambrose's comment, as I rather enjoy this blog and see it as being opinionated and informed. Callum's review reflected exactly what he heard, and was expressed in such a way as to show that he knew what he was listening to and had an appreciation of Ambrose's work.

Things get a lot worse than that. Recently my band opened up for Wayne Shorter in London and I got two utterly different reviews; one great, one absolute drubbing. I accept them both; you have to. Things were helped, actually, by the fact that the chap who hated me also hated Wayne because he didn't play Witch Hunt (like he was expecting him to - as if he had no idea what his new band does) and because he played 'totally free' (despite the visual clue of Pattituci and Perez reading music on the gig). Idiotic, uninformed stuff like this can sometimes soften the blow...

Anyway, what I suppose I'm doing here is writing in defense of Callum, as I think his blog is particularly good. It's well-informed, passionate, amusing stuff, the like of which, sadly, is hard to find in my country, and, I imagine, in a lot of jazz criticism everywhere.

Often, as well, it's good to have somebody point something out to you like that. If your music's coming across in a certain way, or shares an aesthetic with something that you'd rather think it didn't, then it can be a help to know this when it comes to making the next step. It's shit to be told that something's not quite hit the spot in the way that you'd hoped, but I think that in the long term it's all valuable stuff.