By coincidence, and much to my astonishment as I have been for years a staunch critic of that form of music, it so happened that I started attending a few free/improv jazz (don’t really know what to call it) concerts lately.
I guess it takes getting used to and especially experiencing it live.
The concert I’ve enjoyed most until now was a few days ago. First because it was performed by superior musicians — and the simple fact that I can now (subjectively) tell the difference between musicians that I like better than others is to me the ultimate surprise as I always thought of the whole thing as glorified noise where individual musicianship and the quest for a common vibe were simply irrelevant variables — and second because the music made me think so much and so incredibly clearly.
It started with the obvious question of structure and the lack of it: coming from a background of loud, simple and fast 4/4 tempos I have always thought of myself as a musician with a need for clear and linear boundaries, as if they defined the base from which I could elaborate and reach (or at least try) for more and more multiples of complexity. As if whichever absolute one pays allegiance to could be glimpsed in some strange attractor in a hidden fractal formula, one which needed simply to be codified.
It became stranger when I realised that not only had I been assuming this premise as obvious all my life but also that I only applied it to music. It never occurred to me that, looking at the way I live my life, structure is really the least of my yearnings or even talents. For some reason, amidst the dissonance (is it really one?) the paradox became so obvious that it made me smile.
“So, what about them?” I thought. That they live in a musical world of absolute fluidity with no bars no tempi no structure and no score doesn’t exclude the fact that they too are reaching for the absolute they pay allegiance to. This is what we all do and musicians especially have no choice but to do it, this prayer of sorts.
What was clear to me was that tempo is what made the difference and who am I, a complete virgin, to say that there is no tempo there? Maybe there is. Maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking about the discrete measures of time assuming that they’re infinitely divisible (which they are, but still by definition discrete) and that all those forms can somehow be combined to create ladders to climb to higher levels of aufhebung.
What struck me is that the music I was listening to, did have tempo. It’s just that I couldn’t process it. I wondered if tempo is fluid, continuous and analog after all, if my 4/4s and 13/8s and what have you are just crude (but much more powerful) representations of a pulse of infinite complexity, a pulse of a complexity that cannot, should not be understood.
As if what I was marveling at in those musicians was seeing how their form (because there is one however elusive) commanded that reaching a level of rational understanding immediately implied stepping into a greater unknown, a greater mystery where nothing is understood at all until the next level of understanding and then letting go again. As if pure feeling and musicianship were paradoxically the ultimate expression of both abandonment and supreme reasoning.
Bound but free but not, all this while they played.
I can’t wait for the next one.