I’m famous

The other day my name came in the paper. I wrote against a review which was very unfavourable against the Jonas Hellborg concert. The paper published my letter and a steamed up response. Here it is.

Jazz reviews

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with your jazz concert reviews. Jazzebel seems to only enjoy a particular sub-genre of jazz. His trashing of the Jonas Hellborg trio is the latest in a series of concerts which didn’t suit his taste. He didn’t even research Hellborg’s astonishing career which includes playing with John Mclaughlin. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the beauteous Lokuah Kanza, or the avant-garde Der Rote Bereicht, he obviously doesn’t consider these to be quite `jazz’. He doesn’t seem to understand the evolving nature of jazz, nor be open to more contemporary forms of music.

I don’t see the point of MetroPlus carrying reviews of shows which are unfairly shown in a poor light. Either Jazzebel needs to expand his horizon or you need an additional writer or, please, don’t print the articles at all. They are becoming slanderous.

Sunil Chandy
On email

© Copyright 2000 – 2005 The Hindu

Jazzebel replies

I don’t know whether Mr. Chandy expects a writer on jazz to be “objective” like a news reporter should be, but to me it is evident that when writing about jazz I can’t possibly be uninfluenced by my personal taste. Any writer on music would be less than honest in pretending to keep personal taste out of his reaction to a performance and the review that follows. What one can do, and I always try to do, is assess how accomplished the musicians are and how well they perform, regardless of whether I like their sound or not.

Thus, I found the Jonas Hellborg trio did what they did — and at no point did I say that I didn’t consider it jazz — very well, although it had the loud drumming and electronic sound effects that I most dislike in jazz-rock. They came up with astonishing solos and had incorporated influences such as Romanian folk and Carnatic into their music. (My “personal taste” accommodates influences from around the world in jazz, from Latin America through Azerbaijan and South Africa to India.)

The main reason for my dissatisfaction with their concert was the conditions in which it was held, and the unfortunately intensified effect of the loudness of the music in those conditions.

I find Mr. Chandy’s suggestion that I should have “bothered to research” Hellborg and his work with John McLaughlin quite strange. Is a writer supposed to spend all his time reading up whatever has been written about someone instead of trusting his ears and what he generally knows about the kind of music he’s writing about? I usually completely ignore what the handouts say about someone (other than factual details) and if there’d been a handout about Hellborg at the concert, I would have singularly failed to be overawed by the connection to McLaughlin. In fact, it so happened that a musician told me about that connection before the concert started.

In the case of Lokuah Kanza, whom I join Mr. Chandy in considering “beauteous”, I gave him a glowing review — as African (folk) music, not jazz, for the simple reason that jazz, by practically any modern definition, has improvisation (usually solo) in it. I found Kanza’s music didn’t have any to speak of and was much closer to what is labelled “world music” from Africa than African jazz.

I did consider the music of Der Rote Bereich (DRB), on the other hand, to be jazz. And although I think avant-garde jazz can be irritating, I was pleasantly surprised to find DRB were not as outrageous as their handout threatened they would be. I found them to be good musicians and said so, and I only had a couple of complaints, including their failure to develop their solo improvisations well. A complaint I could, and often do, make about purveyors of the kind of jazz that meets my personal taste.

Need I reiterate that all the positive statements I’ve made above appeared in the three reviews cited by Mr. Chandy?


© Copyright 2000 – 2005 The Hindu

All in all quite funny I thought. Imagine a review which shouldn’t have any research done for it. The assertion that jazz ‘has improvisation (usually solo)’ is true, but then so does almost every type of music in the world including Western Classical the most notated of all music. Most pop songs have an improvised solo by an instrument in them.The statement ‘ their failure to develop their solo improvisations well’ is essentially a prescriptive statement as to what the music should do, which in itself is an anti-thesis to the nature of jazz itself.

One thing that was really missed out in the review is the fact the crowd really had a good time. The ironical thing here is that I myself wasn’t that kicked by Jonas Hellborg, but I had a very enjoyable evening. The energy and the humour of the evening made up for everything else. But someone didn’t think so.


10 thoughts on “I’m famous”

  1. that old buzzard wouldn’t know good jazz if a sax was shoved down his throat… “electronic sound effects”, he says. Well, if you consider a tube distortion an electronic sound effect, then there’s precious little we can do to rescue you from yourself.

  2. Jazzebel knows just as much about jazz as I do about the politics in Azerbaijan or some nondescript place like that. Complete weirdo if ever there was one. I had the misfortune of working woth him for a week and I almost cried! 😦

  3. I will not condemn Jazzebel like the others do, bassman. Unlike Abe or Ladyparadox, I don’t claim knowledge of jazz or azerbaijanan politics. The only thing I will say is that since coming here, I’ve realised just how subjective truth can be, and just how much all of us work off our biases. I don’t know if that is a good thing, but right now I’m just going along for the ride. Maybe fifty years from now I’ll be able to decide, but I doubt it. Meanwhile, I’ll allow both you and Jazzebel your biases as long neither of you attacks mine.

  4. Chandy bass, Do u hear Jugular philosophies echoing in RTP’s words?

    As for Jazzabel, he is well versed with jazz; well, at least with a certain form of jazz. But to simply walk into a concert and ‘trust one’s ears’ without placing a musician in his/her context is simply absurd and irresponsible music journalism. But I will excuse Jazzabel his personal tastes, since like RTP said, we all have them. But in the same way that I don’t enjoy Black Metal, I won’t pretend to have enough know-how to critically judge a Black Metal performance. Evidently, Jazzabel is making judgements of a genre that he has little appreciation, and even less understanding about. Just because ‘jazz-rock’ has the word ‘jazz’ attached to it, and he is The Hindu’s ‘jazz reviewer’ , that doesn’t put him in any position to critically review an artist who he doesn’t bother to research, or a genre who he doesn’t bother to explore. I think the best solution is, as Chandy stated, to let someone else brave the cramped venues and decibels so that we can get better feel of how the show actually was.

  5. @RTP. Disappointing RTP. So justice and all that malarkey, is just malarkey. I have no idea who Jazzabel is other than his reviews. So I’m not making a judgment on his person. I think if he’s the hindu reviewer being sent for posh jazz concerts he should then at least not contradict himself so heavily. Which was why my suggestion to the hindu that they get an additional writer. And everything isn’t subjective. The crowd had a rip roaring time which no one can deny.

  6. so RTP, what you subjectively purport to be the truth of the matter is that both Jazzebel and sunil are merely off-loading their biases? so someone who has studied music (including jazz) and is an accomplished musician, composer and arranger, therefore, presumably, has no more authority to speak on these matters than, for example, myself. since i imagine you have a basic idea of the extent of my own musical prowess(!), i hope you’ll agree that’s nonsense. or, perhaps i could come and work with you and we could have ‘tea and symphony’ together in the afternoons?

  7. Very well. I apologise. Perhaps I should have stopped at admitting that I knew nothing about jazz or azerbaijanan politics. What can I say? I’m young and immature and cannot always shut up just because I know that my thoughts haven’t been thought out.

  8. Did i mention that I think you should respond? It’ll be more heat than the Metro section will be able to handle!! hahah

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