Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Identity Jazz"; Writing needs work

This review of Vijay Iyer's new CD in the Village Voice has what might be the worst sentence I've read all week:

This will have to remain a puzzle for now, because the most remarkable thing about Reimagining is its nine originals for trio or quartet--so strong in conception and performance it seems only a matter of time before the same sort of consensus Jason Moran inspired a few years ago begins to form around Iyer, who was born in Rochester, New York, in 1971, the son of upper-middle-class Indian immigrants (father a retired research chemist, mother a manager for Xerox).

So they don't have editors at the Voice? Not only is this a textbook run-on sentence, the individual parts of the sentence are pretty badly constructed. And do we really need a parenthetical telling us what Iyer's parents do for a living?

The reviewer saves the review with a quip at the end about "identity jazz":

A giveaway should have been the unusual number of Indian people who turned out, even if few of them wore kurtas or saris. My only argument with what I'm tempted to call identity jazz is the mistaken belief of some promoters that the way to lure more people to jazz is to convince audiences that it's about them. The Polish-speaking immigrants I see at Tomasz Stanko are no more likely to show up for David S. Ware than the lesbian reconstructionist rabbi I recognized at a performance of Stephen Bernstein's Diaspora Blues--and African American musicians are suddenly the ones left out in the cold. For all of that, the music itself can be pretty heady stuff, especially when driven by an honest desire to come to terms with a forgotten or long-taken-for-granted cultural heritage. In the Dakshina Ensemble, the two saxophonists found a common tongue in B-flat. That's a natural setting for the bluesy, speech-inflected Mahanthappa. But it's also Gopalnath's sruti, or favored key.

It's still a little muddled, and more than a little name-droppy (Voice writers can't seem to help themselves on this). But you get the idea.

Not that the idea makes any sense, of course. Arguably, African-American jazz has always been "identity jazz," only caucasian audiences have found ways to overlook it. What's new here is, it's a different "identity."

[I did an earlier post on Vijay Iyer here]


Ramya said...

Will completely agree with what you have to say about the sentence construction. Another area that needs a little more care is punctuation. I cant seem to fathom how people can ignore such an integral part of written english.

5:29 AM  
Anonymous said...

"You cant"? That's amusing...

Amardeep, I'm a fan of Vijay's, and I've been to seem him perform several times. People can't seem to let go of the idea that he does "Indian" jazz. He and Rudresh are both so avant-garde that they, in all honesty, sound much more like Radiohead, Coltrane and Philip Glass than, say, Ravi Shankar.
Yet, this point about microtonalities and ragas is constantly being belabored, as if Vijay can't be understood beyond the fact that his parents are Indian.

I do love the fact that his momma works for Xerox. I adore that kind of surreal detail.


9:44 PM  
Anonymous said...


I think this confusion about 'Indian Jazz' results from not only an ignorance of Indian musics, but also failing to appreciate Vijay Iyer's music from within the context it emerged. He studied and performed with Steve Coleman and his M-BASE esemble at UC Berkeley [see] and his current style of funky, complex polymetric grooves is still more clearly indebted to the African centered M-BASE sound than any Carnatic influences as far as I can tell. I've seen a few critics label this style of Iyer and associates Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Lehman as "post M-BASE jazz."

4:26 PM  
Amardeep said...


Thanks for that. I didn't know about M-Base... Interesting.

11:08 AM  

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