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The Friday Morning Listen: Bill Frisell & Jim Staley – Live at Roulette

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Categories. Sometimes they're a good thing. Sometimes they ruin the experience of art. While I'll be talking about music, this idea applies to almost all art forms. The problem lies not so much in the danger of misapplied labels but in the tendency of people to shy away from genres they 'know' they don't like.

Take the word 'ambient.' Ask 20 different people to describe ambient music and you're sure to get everything from "huh?" to "boring elevator music" to "mellow" (Dang, I hate that word…don't even like typing it) to a detailed synopsis of process music. While all of them might accurately describe some pieces of ambient music, it's clear that that particular genre is fairly wide-ranging, encompassing everything from the sonic wash of Eno's Ambient 1: Music For Airports to the more techno-ish work of Aphex Twin. Obviously, the 'definition' we're dealing with here isn't doing the job. That can't be helped though, as language can only go so far.

What bugs me is when a person rejects some music out of hand based on the category. I hear this all the time. Somebody doesn't like jazz, another incredibly wide genre of music. It's like tossing out 30 sub-genres without hearing a single note. I've heard the same of classical music. It all sounds the same you know!

OK, here I'll admit that my music obsessiveness gets the better of me: I'm always so thirsty for new forms of "sound entertainment" that I just can't imagine being so cavalier about rejecting things. Of course, my counter-examples are populated with music that I don't particularly care for: death metal, shoegazer, the former being too aggressive and one-dimensional to my ears while the latter comes across as cold and emotionless. Also, I do realize that people who aren't into music at this same level just don't listen with the same amount of attentiveness. That might explain the tendency to miss small but important differences between pieces of music. (I've pretty much given up trying to introduce things to people who don't share my musical proclivities. I want them to listen, they start talking, I say "You're not listening," they disagree, I get annoyed….and on and on.)

Still, I can see why certain genres of music, even ones that I love, might not be to everyone's liking. Today's selection provides a great example. It's fully improvised, with Bill Frisell on electric guitar and Jim Staley on trombone. It has elements of several genres including both jazz and ambient music. What it lacks are 'normal' song structures. Couple that with some oddball and abrasive sounds and I can understand how it might be off-putting to some.

But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't give it a try.



Note: thanks go out to Jordan Richardson for putting this idea into my head with his review of Mountains, and to the art site UbuWeb, which houses a lifetime supply of cutting edge sound, visual, and textual blasphemy.

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About Mark Saleski

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Nice Article…

    “the former[Death Metal]being too aggressive and one-dimensional to my ears.”

    Yes, I agree, 95% of the bands in that genre pretty much choose to release the stereotypical formula that the typical Metal Head loves to hear. You really got to dig to find the oh so few bands that are willing to fuse other ideas and/or styles, with respect to accuracy,in order to create something as unique as it can be.

    BUT, that can be said about all the different genres available although I do feel, for the most part, that the experimental mentality in music has been tossed aside in lieu of financial gain.

    Still, at some point, you have to know how to find the balance between technical prowess,complexity,harmony & melody or that particular statement or album will lack cohesiveness.

    With all this being said, I am still a firm believer that you have to understand the educational value of music before you can truly appreciate those attributes of what you like & don’t like. Honestly, the “Entertainment Factor” is rather shallow and can only take you so far…

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    the experimental mentality in music has been tossed aside in lieu of financial gain.

    it sort of depends on which part of the marketplace you’re looking at, since hardly anybody makes money from recording anymore.

    Honestly, the “Entertainment Factor” is rather shallow and can only take you so far…,

    education can help but i don’t think it’s necessary. in my case, a lot of the things i love about music i loved long before i know anything about the technical aspects of things.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Well, I guess the marketplace I’m looking at is here in the US. You can’t deny that there is a raping of that “entertainment value” going on.

    Most of the bands/projects that are releasing any of the worthwhile music that involves actual listening are not necessarily from this country. I could name at least a dozen or so.

    Again, I wasn’t really pointing towards you when I said “you”, I don’t see how anyone could really get to a full appreciative level of listening(especially Jazz) if they don’t feel it necessary to delve into the “technical” aspects of this wonderful art. That’s just how I feel. There was a lot that I, too, loved about music before my journey began but I didn’t know why I loved it. I couldn’t find the language to explain the attributes that moved me so much. Now its not so much a mystery anymore which,in turn, could possibly lead me to be able to recreate those moments. Sure, you don’t have to be a music theory student or a technical virtuoso to enjoy music but I think people are missing out on a part of the experience.