I like to make an effort to characterize the music I write about using adjectives or categories that are descriptive enough to give readers a sense of what to expect.
Sometimes I say music is "inside" or "down the middle" or "like a classic Blue Note sound", and hope that creates an image for readers. That music in my mind stresses melody, gentle harmonies, standards, and gentle improvisations.
And then there are the shadings -- music that is based on melodies and standards but with some modern creativity, interesting improvisations, or unusual instrumentation; music that is a bit outside but not too far; chamber jazz, that stresses colorations and gentle harmonies; or music that is totally abstract or improvised but not in an angular and dissonant way.
I do this so those who want to try new artists or new sounds have an inkling of what thay will be getting. This post covers two polar opposites in sound (to me). I hope it illustrates my thinking in action in this post, which is to get people to pick up and listen to a new artist, Joe Alterman; pick up some new CDs by well known artists (David Hazeltine, George Cables, Harold Mabern); or to try some experimental music, go out on a limb and listen to Nik Bartsch's Ronin.
Alterman is solid and respectful of his roots but not necessarily a unique voice at this point, which is not to demean what is a great record that I easily recommend. He has the knowedge of what is most meaningful in the jazz tradition and a solid musical vision of who he is. His touch is reminiscent of Garland or Jones, he works carefully with his cohorts and truly listens and works with them, and has created a really lively, spirited and swinging CD. He is a young guy working to expand his vocabulary to bring the standard sound to the new century.
Now lets step outside. There are all sorts of ways to do this. Just outside are those like Jarrett, Bollani, Pieranunzi, Bley, and Mehldau, those who are deeply rooted in the conventions of the piano trio, play the melodies in their songs' heads (when not doing free composition) but are more improvisational than those who play down the middle. One can follow the formidable modernists led by Vijay Iyer, Jason Moran, or Matthew Shipp, who can play both just outside the box, way outside the box, and anywhere in between as they reinvent the language of jazz for the classic piano trio but still retain the structures. One can go towards the European chamber jazz sensibilities of Bobo Stenson, Marcin Wasilewski, Anat Fort, Ketil Bjornstad, and others whose play emphasize moods and colorations over traditional jazz rhythms and beats. Or there are the European trios following in the footsteps of E.S.T., like Helge Lien, Michael Wollny [em], and the modernists using today's pop like Bad Plus and the Curios.
Or, one can really step far outside, at least in this blogger's opinion, and create something altogether new, unusual and almost beyond category, which is where I placed The Necks, The Portico Quartet, and Nik Bartsch's Ronin in my post of May 14.