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Saturday, March 27, 2010

1,000 CD reviews on free jazz blog

Starting in January 2007, a little of three years ago, I have now reached my 1,000th CD review, actually three days ago already.You can view the full list here.

This is certainly a feat, quite obsessional maybe, but certainly passionate. Actually, I have no idea what other reviewers do, but it does sound like an impressive figure.

My passion is for the music. My motivation is to get this great music known to more people. To get it out of the shadows, to drag it a little higher above the waterline, to make sure it gets noticed, to make sure it gets appreciated.

Fantastic musicians such as William Parker, Joe McPhee, Roy Campbell, Andrea Centazzo, Gianni Mimmo, Wadada Leo Smith, Bill Dixon, Mats Gustafsson, Marcin & Brat Oles, Hamid Drake, Satoko Fujii, Dans Les Arbres, Frode Gjerstad, Paul Dunmall, Lotte Anker, Tony Malaby, Sten Sandell, Joëlle Léandre, and many, many more, .... never or rarely get reviewed in newspapers or magazines. They bring the real music. Real and unadultered by other interests. Pure and authentic.

These musicians are not stars : they are artists.  They don't seem to care about promotional activities, or branding. More often than not the names of their bands change with each record, which are hard to find, on labels with unclear life expectancies. These musicians and labels all share the same characteristics : they give themselves fully: dedicated to their art, without compromise. That by itself deserves appreciation and recognition.

Why is this music so passionating?

In a few words : free jazz and avant-garde jazz try to create new listening experiences, creating new sounds and sound possibilities in a world without boundaries : anything is possible. The process is often a risky undertaking, both for the musicians and the listeners alike. You take your chances. You don't know where you will end.

If successful, the end result is one of absolute artistic integrity and authenticity, reaching deep into emotional expressivity through new form : playing with timbre, shifting between harmony and dissonance, attraction and repulsion, familiarity and the unknown, but always creating tension full of paradoxes and contradictions, full of intensity, no holds barred ... free. Free. Free.

This is not possible without great technical skills and musical vision ... and a deep sense of humanity.

For the listener the experience is all or nothing: there is no escape : you have to surrender to the sounds, the noise sometimes, the extreme innovation, the never-heard-before, but you also get the incredible reward and joy  of hearing something so true and beautiful, so real and deep, breaking through the boundaries of the known, out of the mediocritiy and shallowness of mainstream music, out there in the open : the ultimate listening experience. You participate in a musical adventure, a journey, together with the musicians. Open ears require open minds. No preconceptions, no expectations. Just listen.

Over the years my taste has evolved. I can listen to things that I could not understand and appreciate five years ago. Listening a lot does that to you. So if an album does seem a little disconcerting at a first listen, sometimes (not always), it's worthwhile to keep listening, get into the music, let go of the voice in your head.

By coincidence, this 1000th CD review coincides almost with the 500,000th visitor to this blog, and luckily still in an ascending trend, with a steady and also increasing 25,000 visitors a month, which is not bad for the kind of music under review.

I want to thank all my regular readers and "commentators", with anonymous being the most regular one, but also Joe, Bill, Luke, Guy, and many others: thanks for the comments, reactions, corrections and suggestions.

My only ambition is to get the music known. There is no other reason. I have been asked to participate in networks, to put advertisements on my blog, to participate in commercial deals. I have not been really inclined to join these offers. Keep it simple, keep it pure.  I joined forces with Instantjazz in order to get access to new material (thanks, Tony!), also as a means to direct you, the reader, to a place where you can actually buy the music.

Today, most of the CDs are sent to me by the labels, or by the musicians themselves, or once in a while even by a fan! But I still buy CDs, especially downloads from eMusic or iTunes (I just downloaded Jeff Platz & Daniel Carter).

So thank you all for sending me material. I apologize to all of you whose music I have not managed to review, but I have to be selective too. At any given time, I have a pile of thirty to fifty CDs waiting for review.  At this moment, this pile contains seventy-four CDs - all waiting patiently to be listened to, to be reviewed.

How do I go about writing the reviews? 

I spend at least two hours a day in my car, listening to new stuff. In the evening, between 10pm and 1am, I listen and write. My reviews are often characterized by their shortness, with the occasional mistake, typo and other consequences of speedy delivery, and with the limited vocabulary of a non-native English speaker. I try to capture the music in a few phrases. That's by definition impossible, but worth a try.

Why am I always so positive in my evaluations?

Hard to believe maybe, but I listen to more records than I review. Some get dumped after a few minutes of listening : not fitting the profile of the blog, or just not good, or not to my taste. I just want to review what I like. It's easier to recommend than to be negative.

Do I have a life? 

Sure thing. I am not sure my wife and children always appreciate what I listen to, but yes, sometimes they do. What they don't appreciate are the car trips : get in the car, all quiet and peaceful, then dad switches on the car ignition, and the sudden blast at maximum volume of a Brötzmann tentet coming out of the speakers catapults them back on the street. A great listening experience.

Anyway, I thank them for their patience.

And I thank you, reader and music fan, for your interest.

Keep reading, keep listening! 


© stef


Massimo Magee said...

Many thanks for all your wonderful work, Stef! The passion you have for getting this music known and out there is a truly great thing for all of us.

Here's to the next 1,000!

Maciej Nowotny (Editor) said...

My deepest respect Stef :-))) I like your blog, I appreciate your dedication and taste. So much inspiration come to me from your short but matter-to-fact notes. My best wishes for next 10,000!

parallelliott said...

Keep it up, please!

Anonymous said...

Great work man!

Bert said...

Keep going Stef! I rate your blog ***** Thanks for all the excellent suggestions.

david_grundy said...

Stef, many congratulations on reaching this milestone: it's amazing how much music you listen to and how much time you spend writing about the way it has moved you. Some people might get jaded making their way through so much material, but you've maintained your enthusiasm and your blog has established itself as one of the premiere free jazz resources. Let's hope there are many more reviews to come!

allan said...

You are certainly succeeding in your aim to bring the music to the attention of a wider public. I,and I'm sure many other listeners and artists,are continually grateful for your efforts -- keep on keepin'on!

Anonymous said...

Agreed with all the high praise in previous comments. I have bought multiple CDs based solely on your reviews, and have never regretted it.

So, thanks!


______________ said...

Congrats Stef ... that car-family-Brötzmann event sounds very familiar to me :-)

Unknown said...

You must have a very patient family! Many congratulations and also admiration for your perseverance and consistency. You've introduced me (and us all) to amazing amounts of good music.

Unknown said...

Could you stop doing this or at least hide it were i cannot find it.This is so addictive. Free jazz is usually hidden but you made it accessible. Devil in disguise if you ask me. Currently i ask my myself why do i suddenly have more cds than i can digest. Please stop.

Warsaw/Poland said...

Thank You very, very much for Your work!
I read this blog every day. For me, it's the best free jazz site.
Keep it up!.

Unknown said...

Congratulations! As a proffessional sax player i find your blog fact i check it every day to see what is happening....... and i have to say that i value your judgement on recording enormously. All the best, Simon Peat.

Hosiery For Men said...

I have been reading this blog for ages and have recommended it to others. I have checked out and discovered countless artists reviewed here and I often go back into the archive to read about a recording I am interested in downloading. It was this blog that turned me onto the Clean Feed label and Satoko Fujii. So a massive thank you for all your work and dedication.

Franpi said...

Amazing work ! Keep it up and congratulations !

Chris Monsen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Monsen said...

Congrats, stef. Keep up the good work!

ArtS. said...

Congrats! I'm fairly new here, but your blog has already proven to be invaluable source of free-jazz recommendations for me. Keep up the good work!

Morgen said...

Thanks so much for all the passionate work, Stef.
Your blog is my main spyhole into the world of jazz, through which I discovered and enjoyed lots of great records so far.
Big up!

Thorsten said...

Thank you for your work and your inspiration. My record collection is growing and growing....and your reviews are the reason. :-) Seems that we have the same taste...

Keep up the good work!

Guy said...

Like I told you yesterday, the blog filled a void and has become better and better. Congrats, keep up the great work!


Green Eyes said...

Congratulations Stef! I love your blog :)

Stef said...

Hi everyone!

Thanks for the support.


MWN said...

Many thanks for your effort, Stef. I check your site regularly simply to find out what is new. A great source for music that is seldomly reviewed elsewhere. All the best!

Michael Campbell said...

Great Job, Stef! Your blog is important to us and we appreciate the niche you fill

soyo said...

The jazz or any other musical genre could never be free of social, historical, psychological or musical constraints. But the musician can be aware of them and try to cross those barriers, and go to unexpected places.

Thanks to you (and your family) for your effort.

Anonymous said...