Does good music ever become dated?

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As a fully paid up musical magpie (and a grumpy old man in training!) I have found myself going back into some of the music I listened to as a teenager (again!). After The Beatles and the singer songwriter boom of the Seventies (James Taylor, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Carole King, Laura Nyro, Judee Sill et cetera) I started to listen to a lot of jazz rock. This was (is) music played with the volume and power of rock and the improvisational elasticity of jazz. I did not know it at the time but musicians with impressive pedigrees in acoustic jazz were plugging in and, in a phrase redolent of the times, letting it all hang out! Some say it all started with Miles Davis’ album ‘Bitches Brew’ in 1969 (but I note that some English musicians got there at about the same time as Miles – Ian Carr’s Nucleus recorded their album ‘Elastic Rock’ in 1969, Miles’ ‘Brew’ was not yet released – but let’s not argue!).

Personally I had never heard anything like this music – these musicians could play fast (I remember thinking about this when I first heard The Mahavishnu Orchestra – why play one note when you can play twenty!), but the jazz improvisation was never far behind and the chops of these musicians were phenomenal. Soon jazz rock, or jazz fusion was everywhere and even though Messrs. Corea, Hancock, McLaughlin et al eventually unplugged and went ‘back’ to acoustic jazz the lessons they had learnt in the electric years never really went away. In fact, as I pointed out in a previous post in this neighbourhood, a lot of young jazz musicians clearly do not share the reservations of those who thought that jazz rock was an aberration and are bringing the muscularity and invention of fusion to their music – for example consider for a moment the large co – operative led by Michael League that goes under the name of ‘Snarky Puppy’, there is a jazz fusion/ worldbeat, funk outfit that operates like an old fashioned big band to amazing effect.

All this came back to me as I started to listen again to an album by Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band made in the 1990’s – it is a great line – up, apart form Corea on acoustic piano, there is John Patituchi on bass and the powerhouse Dave Weckl on drums. This is acoustic jazz very much in the style of the classic jazz piano trio but there is a muscularity about the playing (especially from the drummer) that I find echoes the disciplines of fusion. My favourite track on this record is the trio’s reading of a classic song ‘Autumn in New York’, it is respectful of the song and the playing is supple and intelligent. This led me to some of Chick Corea’s earlier work with’Return to Forever’ – tracks like ‘Night Streets’ and ‘Nite Sprite’ both of which feature drummer Steve Gadd have extended synthesizer solos (and phenomenal percussion!) that some suggest sound a bit dated. This comment made me think of the question above, is good music ever really dated, or is it simply rediscovered and re-purposed by each new generation. For example, rap music is a bit of closed book to me but when I hear some rap artists they remind me of Louis Armstrong scatting, or Fats Waller’s half spoken half sung vocals – it all seems to come around again. Perhaps Duke Ellington was right when he said

“There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind … the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good it’s successful; if it doesn’t it has failed”.

I won’t conclude here by suggesting that my early days were a golden age of music, but simply with a note to myself to keep my ears open to good music whenever it was made!

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