Monday, January 7, 2008

What I appreciate in music & how to evaluate it for others

My new CD supply is a little bit slow at the moment (seems like most albums - also in free jazz - were released before the christmas period), so maybe it's a good time to discuss what qualities good music should have for me.

Here are some criteria which I find very important, and true, there may be overlap between them all, but they still have their specific shades and colors of value, and there may be other criteria to add.

1. AUTHENTIC : the emotions have to be real, genuine and truthful, the prime objective should be to create good music for the sake of the music itself (not in order to sell, or to show off, or any other thing ...). That's why I like improvized music, because the link between emotion, musician, sound and listener is to be found in its purest form. It's your immediate emotion you're transmitting, not someone else's. Paradoxically enough, this also includes "absence of self", as a prerequisite for true interplay, listening skills and communion between band members.

2. ADVENTUROUS : the artist/band should be looking for new ways to express what they feel and have to communicate. What's the point for the listener to hear the same kind of approach as others have tried. The surprise element, the creativity, the musical vision are part of the adventure. As a listener I want to be taken along, and explore new musical horizons.

3. ACCURATE : when you hear the sounds, you must have a reaction of "Yes, that's it!", as the sublime translation of feelings through skills and mastery of the instrument, the total sound created by a band or the newly created musical language. The sound, or just obtaining that single note which encapsulates it all, yes, then you know you've transmitted something as a musician, that you've received something as a listener, that you share something. Doing that requires accuracy and concentration.

4. ARTISTIC : by that I mean the more cerebral aspect of music. There is some concept behind it, which leads to structure, balance, length, interplay, selection of instruments, of musicians, of new approaches. This does not go against improvisation, quite on the contrary : great improvised music is all about artistic vision, clever group interaction.

5. ATTENTION-GRABBING : though music can and should require an effort from the listener, it should also include a factor of entertainment, in the sense of keeping the attention going, of being captivating. Lots of music, and especially during long soloing, contains the risk of losing the listener somewhere along the way, even if the musicians themselves are very intensively busy with interesting things. There is of course lots of music which does not take the listener into account at all...

That's my "quintuple A" internal rating system. The stars I usually give in my scoring system are not only not very accurate, they're also not sufficiently discerning. Maybe I should give stars for each of the five criteria listed above. I think the five criteria also include what in Arabic is called "tarab" : appealing to mind, body and soul alike, as far as I understood this from the liner notes from Rabih Abou-Khalil's album with the same name. I specifically did not include the qualifier "beautiful" in the list, because that's even more subjective than the ones already there, and furthermore, I did not find a good synonym for it which starts with an "a" ...

I am currently listening to Vulcan, by the Satoko Fujii Quartet, an album which scores high on all of the above criteria.

But in the end, you're the ultimate judge. I'm just sharing my personal opinions.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


It would be awesome if more of us took the time to listen to music the way you are proposing here.

Let’s find Peace within
and share our joyfulness
with all Beings
here on Earth.

May the spirit of the New Year
be in our souls
in each instant
of our existence.

So let’s be Totally Attentive
to one another.


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