Friday, December 30, 2011

797 and Counting: Am I Crazy?

We've reached the end of 2011 and everyone is commenting on their favorite recordings of the year. As I think back on the year I know there were many that caught my ear, and stood out amongst those to which I listened. But weaning that number to a managable list, now that is difficult when one has purchased, as of today, 797 cds, not counting multiples more than one time.

And how do I come up with that number? Because I travel on business a lot, and also commute irregularly to our offices in Manhattan, I always carry around an ipod and earphones, and over the years have gotten into the habit of transferring purchases immediately into an external hard drive and onto an ipod. In the office too I usually have music playing while I work. To date I have filled two 160 GB ipods and am halfway through another.

So I just counted up the number of disks I loaded up since 1/1/11 and in all there are 797 of them. Not all jazz -- some blues, folk, country, pop/rock, shows....but mostly jazz, maybe 650 - 700 of them. Not all are from 2011, as I continue to find new discoveries, trace lineages, read the AllMusic catalogue or Penguin Guide, and read the blogs. Today I was reminded of Don Sleet, whose disk I picked up after reading of him in Rehearsing the Blues. Yesterday at my local record store, I stumbled over Don Wilkerson on Blue Note, and discovered another Texas tenor. (Note that this is another good reason for having the physical disk at hand, for on the same Wilkerson disk I see the names of some familiar  players -- Grant Green or Sonny clark as examples -- and some unfamiliar -- Johnny Acea and Lloyd Trotman. And thus off I go to do some more investigation into their biographies and discographies.)

If I cut down the list further, I would venture to say that perhaps half of the aforementioned 797 disks would be 2011 jazz pressings (does one still use that term? is the revival of vinyl going to bring it back?). In thinking about these purchases, I don't think it is a lack of discrimination on my part but rather a broad search for interesting music from here and abroad, and an interest in a range of sub-species of jazz, from chamber jazz to modern bop to big band, avant guarde, etc.  After all, I brought back 20 disks from Iceland this summer, a place with a liveley jazz scene and almost no international distribution. Simply reading the best of lists, I would surmise that well over 100 disks and closer to 200 are probably represented, so I don't think I am too far off the charts as a listener.

How does one even find this many disks, and sort them out and select?

First, as I said earlier, I read the blogs pretty much on a daily basis, and the NY Times music section (and Mancehster Guardian on-line), and those I read most often are shown on the site. I follow links, listen to the short bursts on the internet at amazon or cdbaby or itunes; through clips on you tube, on artist sites, and on label sites. For a disk I hear about, I look at the full list of players to see who I recognize and what I might think about them. A player that I may not know may be playing with folks I do know. Three really great examples:
  • Carol Morgan Quartet, Blue Glass Music:  I didn't know her, but did recognize Joel Frahm, Martin Wind, and Matt Wilson
  • Ferit Odman, Autumn in New York-- with Terrell Stafford, Vincent Herring, Anthony Wonsey, and Peter Washington
  • Augusto Pirroda, No Comment -- Paul Motian and Gary Peacock
  • Anders Christiansen, Dear Someone -- Paul Motian and Aaron Parks
A sideman I have heard on other disks might be a leader on his own, and I will try that too -- recently I bought some older Joris Teepe CDs as an example. Finally, young soloists that I read about in blogs, newspapers, etc. or from awards add to my list -- Emmet Cohen, Kris Bowers are recent examples that immediately come to mind.

Second, I read monthlies -- Jazz Times, Downbeat, the New York Jazz Record, Jazzwise (UK), Jazz(UK) -- articles, advertising, and reviews. Clearly I also read many comments about these sources, how record companies or artists may be paying for the good words, etc., so I take everything as a starting point, not as a given. Reviewers are individuals just like me, with likes and dislikes, favorites, etc. Get to know them, or at least the language. In my mind I associate certain adjectives and verbs with types of playing -- round sounds, angular sounds, skronks, all give me an image of the music. Instrumentation and words like dissonance are far easier to digest. See who the reviewer compares the music to, see who the players are. And listen to clips as possible. (As an aside, when I read the really fine biography of Monk a couple of years ago, the associations, names, and descriptions of other musicians, known and less known, took me on a wonderful voyage across the OJC, Bluenote, and other older catalogues.)

Third, I have bookmarked probably 30 record labels from large to small, but mostly small, which is the way of the world, and look them over from time to time. Some are better than others; some like Criss-cross are almost worthless for information, while Pirouet or Origin or Palmetto are excellent.

Fourth,  I am fortunate to have access to distributor catalogues to see what is coming, and what is being said about new and upcoming releases. Allegro is on line and covers a number of labels, but others are not. I also have access to a store that will play advance copies, open disks for buyers, and generally provides the old-fashioned service that one seldom finds today. More on Sally's Place at another time (Westport, CT).

Finally, I have bookmarked a set of music stores from here and abroad to see what is out there -- the obvious are Amazon or CDBaby, the less so or, the Jazz Loft for a wide range of music here in the U.S., Eastwind Imports for Japanese imports (pricy), Jazzos in Italy for Italian and European disks, JazzCDs in England.

Getting foreign labels at reasonable prices is probably the hardest thing to do; large labels like ACT or ECM or Challenge are easily found, but others not as much. I am still trying to figure out the ins and outs of distribution.

So there you have it, 797 new disks in a year -- my obsession with music boiled down into a set of steps. While it may seem crazy, I find it a combination of hearing good music, of researching a fascinating topic, and of a relaxing past-time. Were there perhaps 350 jazz disks from 2011 worth hearing? I think so, but others may think I am too inclusive, lack discrimination, etc. Sooner or later I think I end up reading something positive about almost everyone of them in one place or another, and remember, many began not with me but with a blog or magazine or other source.

And how often do I buy a disk I dislike intensely?  Maybe 5-10 this year, if that, and even then I have friends who I have given them to who like them -- after all, if we all had the same taste that would be awfully boring.

So, in my next post, I will take a stab at a list of my favorites from 2011 -- not THE BEST since that is presumes I can speak to good, better, best which of course I cannot -- but which I enjoyed most.

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