That quote of Bill Bruford's that I quoted last time, "If you're interested in tennis, you go to Wimbledon; if you're interested in drumming, you go to jazz" — it's one of those comparisons that seems straightforward at first, but if you think about it, it soon begins to unravel. First, is the relationship of jazz to other music genres really the same as the relationship of one grand slam tournament to other forms of the sport? For audiences, possibly, but for players? Anyone can form a band to play jazz; getting to play at Wimbledon takes some doing. Then there's tell-tale choice of sport and setting which gives away that our Bill was born, raised and always made his home in the Home Counties (I can say "our" because the same applies to me except for the last bit). Not as vulgar as Silverstone or Ascot, nor aristocratic like polo, not as populist as Wembley but more universal than Lords.
So is it all strawberries and cream? Yes and no. Because this is jazz and not jazz, Wimbledon and not Wimbledon. It is all very sophisticated: the players, I'm sure, break sweat, but they don't let it show; there's no Sharapova grunting, or in jazz terms, no dirty skronking. More Surman and Garbarek than Mingus or Coltrane (what a fascinating Men's Doubles game that would make).
The smart critics like it: the great Robert Sandall wrote the sleeve notes, and the allmusic guys describe all the clever features that I don't really understand. I bought Stamping Ground on a whim that day in Manchester in 1997, listened to it a fair bit in the office in the year that followed, but never really got it. Digging it out again now, I initially felt the same, like the track titles were the best bit; very literate. Literate is one of the "moods" that the allmusic review ascribes to the album, along with sophisticated, cerebral, complex, detached, nocturnal, intimate and (saving the best until last) knotty. Yes, bits of it are knotty and cerebral, and that's where I, lazily, felt blocked out. But other parts like the beautiful opening of All Heaven Broke Lose (which I think the Portico Quartet just may have heard) are loose and sensuous and offer a way in, the knots loosened.
Perhaps I should finish off with another arch Wimbledon reference. Maybe that's what I had in mind when I started. But just for once maybe I should stop being cerebral and detached, and just listen.
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