Music criticism criticism and The Bad Plus

There is fine line that the thinking/blogging/music-reviewing recording artist must walk. I have never really claimed to be a music critic, but I have written reviews of music that I like here. I find it awkward to be critical of others’ work, while putting my own music out, with hopes of people liking it, and writing positively about it.

The relationship between reader and reviewer is one that has gotten significant, if inconclusive, thought from me on many occasions. I want to be able to judge a critic’s taste from their body of work, then be able to draw my own conclusions about new music based on my balancing of the critics words, and my knowledge of their taste.

I don’t know much of Michael J. West’s taste, but he reviewed For All I Care by The Bad Plus in the March Jazz Times. This is an album that has kept returning my listening bin. There is something that I find very compelling about it, although I don’t know that I can articulate exactly what it is about it that compels me. I do know that the two parts of the album that West singles out as “unlistenable” and “demented…like they’re playing on separate planets” are the two parts of the album that catch my ear as the most interesting.

I guess we all already knew that there are differing tastes in our business, or we would all listen to the same records. I just find it interesting that the same parts of an album can be heard as the best and worst parts by two different, yet seemingly aware and educated, listeners.

4 thoughts on “Music criticism criticism and The Bad Plus”

  1. Thanks for saying that, Jeff. It so happens I’m about to review the CD for Cadence, and I love it. It’s very hard to do what the Bad Plus do on that recording and pull it off–combine such vastly “different” stylistic material as tunes by Nirvana and music by Ligeti and make all of it their own. There are “purists” out there who will, and apparently do, hate it. Their ears are not ours, I guess. Too bad for them, since they miss out on something very nice indeed. Kudos for Bad Plus to have the nerve to do something potentially risky! That is very healthy for the music.

  2. Well, if you judge it as a jazz record, it fails. It’s not a jazz record. If you judge it in terms of “is it compelling music,” I think it is very successful. That’s why genre classifications are counter-productive.

  3. Yes I think I do agree with you. As humans we continually make evaluations in terms of comparison and contrast. Ultimately I think it’s the music that challenges those genre expectations that help us hear a little differently. And to me that can be compelling certainly. After Eric Dolphy the possibilities were a little more wide open, for example. The Bad Plus album is not quite on that level, but they do something different within a form that could be a liberating influence for others, no matter what genre.

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