Thursday, November 03, 2005

"...but I don't work in America... Without the support of the Europeans, I would have had no music so-called career..."

I was reading this short interview with Anthony Braxton written up as a preview of his first Boston performance in a decade. Along with this long, intelligent interview with Matthew Shipp and the recent uptick in Ornette Coleman press surrounding his current tour the common thread running through these is the continuing role of Europe in consistently supporting American music. This is a phenomenon that stretches all the way back to the 1960s with Albert Ayler if not even further.

American culture does competitive sports well. People appreciate it and collectively spend a fortune on it. When it comes to non-spectacle offerings of art music and free jazz it needs to be exported to survive. For whatever reason there is less domestic curiosity for music that falls outside some pretty narrowly marketed and proscribed definitions of "entertainment." Not that there needs to be sold out stadium tours of avant jazz and chamber music. The European support network isn't a one-to-one mapping of pop cultural trappings.

One of the better live music experiences I've had the pleasure of experiencing is George Lewis with the NOW Orchestra. It was so good I've seen them perform twice in two different countries. In Seattle the audience was somewhat cold and seemed to treat the experience as if it were bitter medicine even though the actual performance was possibly the more transcendent of the two I saw. A couple years later this same set of performers was eagerly received in Vancouver, British Columbia by an enthusiastic audience that spent the intermission engaged in a number of intelligent discussions about the dynamics of group improvisation. My perception was that of a vast cultural chasm between two cities just two hours apart with only an international border between them.

Matthew Shipp is again threatening to retire from recording. I hope it's only a much needed vacation. Anthony Braxton, Matthew Shipp and Ornette Coleman are active practitioners of a music I find enormously transcendent. I guess we have "the support of the Europeans" to thank for it.

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