Reasons Not to Like Music
A few weeks ago, I moved, for the third time in the
last two years, and hopefully for the last time for a
while. This meant piling all of my tapes, LPs and CDs
into boxes. It also meant letting them sit in those
boxes for a while as I figured out how to store them
at my new place. A positive side effect of this was
that a few CDs came to the fore that I’d overlooked
for a few years, simply by getting shuffled out of
their familiar positions.
One of them was a Milton Nascimento CD from 1972
called Clube Da Esquina. I knew of Nascimento because
he got plugs from jazz people such as Wayne Shorter,
but folks reading this website might more likely might
know his name from David Byrne’s late 80’s Brazillian
compilations. That sort of thing might seem more like
something you should like than something you would.
Not the case. This music is like discovering new
Beatles or Paul Simon songs of the same calibre as
their classic stuff.
Listening to this again, it occurred to me that I’d
never known what the words meant to most of these
songs – the lyrics are in Portuguese, with no
translations in the liner notes. It didn’t matter.
The music and performances were strong enough that I
felt like I knew what the songs meant, anyway.
This got me thinking about reasons not to like music. To give another example, Keith Jarrett is one of the
most brilliant musicians to have emerged in the last
few decades, but he has a habit of vocalizing along
with his piano playing that’s massively distracting to
many listeners, including me at times. Yet, a few
years back, I picked up one of his 70’s quartet
albums, Shades, which is one of the most energetic and
life-affirming records in my collection. Listening to
it once after I’d gotten familiar with it, I realized
that it did have a fair amount of that vocalizing.
But the music made me listen past it.
When I get assigned to review CDs for jambands.com, I
have to think about whether to listen to my reasons
not to like this music or to ignore them. I do my
best to ignore them, since it usually seems like the
artists have no negative aims. Having been in two
bands whose CDs have gotten reviewed on this site
(Tautologic and Old Number Eight), I don’t like the
idea of making things rougher for these artists.
Sometimes, though, the reasons not to like the CDs win
out when it comes time to write a review.
Since this site provides an e-mail link for the
reviewer with each review, sometimes I hear about
these judgments. I made some negative comments about
Keller Williams and the Big Wu. A few of their fans
didn’t care for these reviews of mine and sent me some
counterarguments, mostly to the effect that it’s a
great time to see these artists live. Probably true,
since they’re both still on the circuit. And perhaps
if I had seen them live, I might have overlooked the
fact that Williams seemed too cute and the Wu too
derivative of the Dead on the CDs I got.
Sometimes the artists themselves write to me, which
can be unnerving. Usually, though, they’re polite and
recognize the constructive tone I try to keep. Once
earlier this year, someone personally sent me his
band’s CD, thinking that I might like it based on
things I’d written in an earlier column. My review
was a mix of some positive comments and a few
criticisms and suggestions. He wrote me afterwards to
say that they’d already changed their arrangement of
one song that I’d singled out as a lowpoint. Our
e-mail exchange came to a polite resolution, but I’ve
had the thought more recently that I should have told
him that it would’ve been okay to keep doing some
stuff that I didn’t like.
Another time, I was mostly positive about a CD but
singled out one player for a bit of criticism about a
playing technique he used. The player e-mailed me,
saying that he appreciated the review, corrected me
about an aspect of what I’d written and explained a
bit about what he was aiming for with this technique I
hadn’t entirely liked. He also offered to guestlist
me for his band’s upcoming show, and their publicist
sent me another, previous CD of theirs.
Now I’m more settled in at my new place, and that CD
is sitting on my new shelf. And I’m hoping that, as I
continue to weigh reasons to like music versus reasons
not to like it, people will continue to be as generous
in considering their reasons to like or dislike what I