The Jazz.com Blog
December 04, 2008 · 1 comment
Chris Kelsey, an editor and writer for jazz.com, recently shared his thoughts in this space about the JALC Monk tribute and the Blue Note recordings of Ornette Coleman. Now he turns his attention to Black Saint and Soul Note recordings that recently became available for digital download. Much of this music has been out-of-print, and almost impossible to find in recent years, but an arrangement with eMusic has now given this catalog a new lease on life. T.G.
When Jazz.com’s Grand PooBah, the decidedly un-Fred-Flintstone-like Ted Gioia, recently sent an e-mail encouraging his writers to submit a piece dealing with something that happened in the jazz world over the past year, I wasn’t sure I’d have anything to contribute.
I spent most of 2008 reflecting on historical subjects. Although I wrote a few reviews of current tracks, CD and DVD releases, and live performances, most of my energy was spent on jazz of the ‘60s through the ‘90s. I haven’t even compiled any of the usual year-end Top Ten lists. When asked to recognize the best of the new, lately my response has been “Wait ‘til next year!” (The distracted jazz critic co-opts the ancient mantra of the perennially disappointed Brooklyn Dodgers fan.) It was looking like I’d have to pass on the assignment when, at the 11th hour (actually, the 11th month), a current jazz event transpired that very nearly caused me to shed some rare non-Obama-related tears of joy. It also gave me the subject for my “That Was the Year That Was” essay.
A couple of weeks ago, the online music service eMusic made more than 500 items from the Italian Black Saint and Soul Note labels available for download. Much of this music had been out of print and/or almost impossible to acquire in digitized form (legally, at least). As someone who came of age listening to the Black Saint/Soul Note releases of Julius Hemphill, World Saxophone Quartet, Air, Steve Lacy, and so many other leading lights of the ’80-‘90s avant-garde, this news was one of the best early Christmas gifts I could imagine. Indeed, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the most important jazz event of 2008.
One of the perks of being a jazz critic is that I almost never have to pay for music. Musicians and labels send me unsolicited CDs by the dozen, for which I’m commensurately grateful. Rarely, however, am I sent reissues of classic jazz releases. I have a lot of those old records on vinyl, but they don’t play very well on my iPod. When I learned a few years ago that eMusic had made available hundreds of classic tracks on labels like Prestige, Riverside, Contemporary, and Milestone, by artists like Rollins, Coltrane, Monk, Ornette, Cannonball, Miles and so many others—and that I could download 100 of those every month—I signed on the bottom line. I’ve been an eMusic subscriber ever since. I still consider it the best 20 bucks I spend every month.
Yet, if I was a satisfied customer before, today I’m a blubbering blob of disproportionately obsequious thankfulness. In its heyday, Black Saint/Soul Note regularly won the Down Beat Critic’s Poll as best jazz label. It’s easy to see why, given the embarrassment of riches now available for approximately two bits per track. At the moment, I’m downloading albums that, for one reason or another, never found their way into my LP and CD collections; records like Anthony Braxton’s Six Monk’s Compositions (1987), wherein the alto-playing Mad Scientist of Middletown—in the company of Mal Waldron and Buell Neidlinger—engages the work of The Onliest; Old and New Dreams’ A Tribute to Blackwell, in which the group’s raison d'être as an homage to Ornette transmogrifies into a eulogy honoring the group’s late drummer, Ed Blackwell; and Trickles, a quartet date co-led by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and trombonist Roswell Rudd released in 1976, long before I knew who either of those gentlemen were. Eventually, I’ll start downloading things I already own on vinyl or disc. That might take awhile, however; there’s too much good stuff I haven’t heard.
Having access to these gems has excited me to the point that I’ve spent more time downloading than actually listening. That will change shortly, as my 100 downloads for the month are very nearly spent, in which case I’ll have no choice but to immerse myself in the music—a joyful task, indeed. I only hope this bounty of buried treasure doesn’t monopolize my listening in 2009, and that “Wait ‘till next year!” doesn’t become “Wait until the year after next!”
This blog article posted by Chris Kelsey.