Tuesday 16 October 2007

A Blue Note

I always considered myself a lover of jazz - not all jazz, but certainly the standards. I would include some less mainstream genres among my favourites - scat, electro-jazz, a touch of fusion. But I'm not a jazz cat, not an aficionado. Which must be why a recent concert by a big name left me utterly baffled. Without giving too much away, let's say the artist's name rhymes with Pain Torture. I had listened to, and enjoyed, some of this saxman's earlier work. He was billed as one of the greatest living jazz-men.

In the theatre before the gig I was buzzing with excitement: this would be a treat. The Torture Quartet appeared on stage to a burst of applause. A silent anticipation fell upon the hall. The odd string was plucked, the piano man tapped a key. It was ten minutes into the first track when we realised this was too long for a sound check. I got that sinking feeling that the wanton dissonance would continue for the duration. And it did. Now I love improvisation, innovation, new sounds. But this was naked randomness. A sax note here, a piano chord there. I forced myself to try to get it, but I drew a musical blank.

The tracks were brutally long, over half and hour - and it felt like more. And no amount of facial contortion on the part of the bassist can make me like his ten minute solo. Then the sonic masturbation - a handful of improvised notes, repeated over and over and over. But alas, no climax.

I found only comedy in the ridiculous courtship between bassist and pianist as the one echoed the other's simple phrases ad nauseam. There seemed to be an idea of working towards unity near the end of marathon-long pieces, but for me it was mostly a jarring dissonance. Time and again the drummer smashed a more delicate movement with a sudden, frenzied attack on his kit. And then he'd relax and smile: I wondered had he reached a higher level of being, or was he merely revelling in our bewilderment. At one stage we had entered a state of inharmonia so perplexing that I wondered if four people, wholly untrained, would produce a sound more forgiving on mind and ear.

When Mr Torture refused to play a least one older, more palatable track to relieve our suffering, the odd punter began to file out of the hall. At the end of each long, cacophonous track, there was indeed a certain amount of one handed applause - but surely more out of relief or sympathy than appreciation. The whole experience was, well, torturous.

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