Jazz has been many things over the years. Jazz has been show music, dance music, punk music, psychedelic music, even noise. At some point in the 80s, parts of jazz were made appropriate and safe for white audiences ( in an even that guitarist Nels Cline refers to as “the Wynton Marsalis whitewashing of Jazz.”) Popular jazz made a transitioned to being a form of easy-listening music. This new jazz was no longer focussed on sonic experimentation or the continuous search for new forms of expression. Jazz crept into the universities and was “classicized,” codified and made academic. Children attend schools in droves to learn the right saxophone scales.
It was the easier form of jazz that Andrew Glover played at Churchill Square at noon on Wedensday as part of the Edmonton Jazz Festival. As you may have gathered, I am rather less fond of the easier form of jazz, but I don’t think that it would be fair to rate Glover’s performance poorly simply because of that. It would be unreasonable of me to expect free jazz or harmolodics at lunchtime in a downtown public square. A good proportion of the audience was over sixty. There were fewer professionals on lunch than I might have expected. All in all, Andrew Glover’s band and his music were a perfect fit for the audience.
The band was talented. The rhythm section were solid and never overplayed; even the drum solo was almost entirely tasteful. I was rather disappointed in the trumpet player, even more than is my bias. He was weak melodically and attempts to “stretch out” with a few sustained high pitches didn’t really land. He came off to me as hesitant where he may have been going for restrained.
Glover himself had composed all of the songs and was more than capable of playing them . His solos actually got a little more wild than I had expected, but he tended to rely on a few flashy figures to give his improvisations extra energy, and after not too long certain moves became stale. Glover also plays the guitar, and for some reason whenever he did it sounded like a derivative form of Al Hirt‘s version of “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Here was a competent band playing competent compositions and generally being unremarkable. It was music that was just as easy to ignore as it is to listen to with focus. One can follow the melody along, or one can let it meld into the background. Either way is basically as rewarding as the other, and it made for a very pleasant sunny afternoon. As my uncle used to say, “talk minus action equals a good dinner party.”
The turning point was a song introduced as “Ramadan Waltz,” which we were subsequently informed is actually named “East Meets West” for reasons of political correctness. Frankly, that introduction fiasco already made the thing seem dumb. The song was apparently Glover’s attempt to marry “sort of Arabic” tonalities with standard jazz form. There were a few “exotic” notes in the melody, but the solo sections simply reverted back to the same harmonic language as the other pieces. This basically reduced the very minor Arabic flavour in the melody to a gimmick used to set this song apart from the others, much in the way the guitar was used to add a vague latin feel. It was kind of like taste-testing non-alcholic wine, which is maybe what you want to do when you’re 65 and hanging out in Churchill Square. All I know is, I grew up with this picture in my grandpa’s kitchen.
I left at the union-required intermission.