Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Penguin Jazz Guide

(Here are a few thoughts. I'll possibly improve it over the next few days to a proper review, but the assessment is one that I hold to.)

The Penguin Guide has changed form, now being a "best of", as selected by BrianMorton and the late Richard Cook. In reality, the onus of selection, ratherthan review, has been on Morton as Cook died in 2007.Overall it still links to a monumental task. The reviews seems to be the same, but this time there is an added bonus of a few pertinent quotes from the artist, or savvy musicians. It still makesenjoyable reading, due to their pithiness. 

But part of the fun of the oldereditions was that it wasmore a tour d'horizon. So there were some fun criticisms and comments.
It was always a joy to try and find out what was in and out and why, especially as both writers are those of immense respect.

The listing is now chronological. The problems with this have been widelydiscussed and it is with relief that there will now be an index.Nevertheless it's fascinating to see how the balance of jazz has changed. Thelargest era for recordings is the second half of the 50s. Unsurprising ifone thinks who was going strong then. Still
early enough to record the earliest generation on lp, it was the heyday ofbe bop and then.....

But how few Europeans there were until then – just 3 albums up to 1950!

So, overall, if you bought all the albums then your collection would indeed be amazing.But...

When I've looked at my own speciality in U.K. I have been surprised hy some ofthe selections. Arguably Dim Lit by Polar Bear is a good album. But reallythe only one to pick from the era of post Loose Tubes-influenced musiciansstarting with the "Partisans generation" and onwards via F-IRE and Loop? TinaMay, but no Christine Tobin? Brian Morton called Big Air "one of the mostimportant Uk albums of the last 25 years" when writing in Jazz Journal. Yet though, it was out in time to be included, but isn't. It would be intriguing to know why there was a reassessment.

A strongpreponderance of improv heavyweights, but do some of the shortcomings also reflect the rest of the scene. I had a chat with a leading French journalist. He though the Martial Solalchoices OK, but not his best.Of course they can't include what they haven't received, but if they want adegree of definitiveness then they haven't consulted widely enough.

So a great book with many caveats. The edition with index will once againbring it closer to the magisterial editions. Worth getting as part of theway to get albums when building a library. but unfortunately you'll probablyneed look at other sources too. The previous full editions were worth itbecause they could also warn you off some duff albums/artists. No longer canit be your only source - or at least 'not yet'! If only though we did have some other choices too.

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