Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bookmarks-Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence

I found Stuart Nicholson's Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence in a used cd shop while looking for the reissue of Metheny and Coleman's Song X (I remember because the printout of information is still in my copy). This book took me two years to read, not because it is bad, but because it is not the sort of book one just sits down and runs through. Part history, part bibliography, part commentary, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a valuable resource, not only about modern jazz, but music in general. I have often joked that the 80s was where music went to die, but Stuart Nicholson's book makes the case, particularly in the opening chapters, that jazz was on the way back. The "return" of jazz was not so much to public awareness (as it very much needs to be), but to a quality and freshness it had enjoyed previously.

Nicholson's book begins with some historical perspective, providing the reader with a sense of what was going on in jazz prior to the 80s. Then he manages to discuss not only the major players in sub-categories, such as hard-bop, free jazz, fusion, and "neo" jazz, but also comments on important and influential musicians that a number of readers have not heard of.

I do think Nicholson is a bit harsh on Wynton Marsalis, but his argument is well reasoned, and is certainly not a rant. I do wish there was more information about some other artists I was interested in, but this book isn't intended to be a compiliation of biographies and discographies. Another, perhaps minor problem, is that the book seemed to have more its fair share of typographical errors. Most books have little flaws that no one notices, and this book is quite readable (Nicholson's prose style is good), but there were certainly enough little errors to catch my attention. This isn't, of course, Nicholson's fault, but Da Capo Press might have invested more energy in catching such problems. It does not detract from the value of the book itself. My copy is a first edition, so perhaps subsequent versions are corrected.

My favorite chapters are those on free jazz and fusion, the first because I felt more informed about a sub-genre I have always been intrigued and mystified by (not that I understand it any better), and the latter because I did find more information about the artists that pretty much brought me to jazz in the first place. Many have maligned the fusion movement, and a handful have praised the top artists too much. But Nicholson manages to keep everything in perspective.

All in all, Jazz: The 1980s Resurgence is a useful and informative book, particularly for those whose love of jazz carries beyond merely putting on a cd as background noise. Those who want to learn about this significant chapter of the world's greatest music should definitely do what they can to find it.

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