By Mark Saleski
How many times have you heard somebody say that they were never able to get into jazz because I don't understand it?" Maybe you are that person? Well, I want to let you in on a little secret: There is no right answer.
Yes, you read that right. It's very much like those daunting questions in high school literature class..."In this story, the mountains are symbolic of what?" Technically, there is a correct answer, but that doesn't preclude the reader from from enjoying the writing. Related to this secret is that the listener is allowed to bring their own point of view to the process. The actual technical content of the music is not nearly as important as how it makes the ears feel.
Let's take Jacky Terrasson's solo version of Caravan" as an example of how my jazz brain works. What follows are the notes scribbled down after the first few listening passes:
Spinning & shifting figures lead not into chaos...but the opening vamp"
Caravan, the straight version, is there...but it's implied"
Tarrasson drops in shockingly loud chord accents"
..."deconstructs (no...melts) harmonic structures"
Cool quote from Well You Needn't"
Reveries are born of the moment, though even the 'out' ones make perfect sense"
Sure, there's some music-wonky language in there, but that shouldn't mean anything to you. Just allow your analytical self to relax and focus on what parts of the music make you feel good (or not!). Don't concern yourself with the 'why' because, honestly, it doesn't really matter.
I'll leave the rest of Terrassons's Mirror as an exercise for the listener. In many ways, Terrasson's approach to the music, especially on standards, provides the perfect environment for discovery. Some musicians approach a collection of tunes from a particular angle. Terrasson does this within the components of each composition.
Much of what fuels Terrasson's sound is his love of Thelonius Monk. Just check out the twisting run though Cherokee" that's supported by the solidly bluesy left hand work. The same is true of Just A Gigolo," with its start & stop rhythms, angular bursts, and occasional dissonant intervals. Even with America The Beautiful," Terrasson slowly, very slowly, morphs from gentle lyricism to clattering arpeggios, and bluesy walks. Carole King's You've Got A Friend" is one of the few tunes given a fairly straight read, with the chords extended to a shimmering ring.
The original compositions on Mirror showcase the diversity of Terrasson's ideas. There's the lilting Tragic Mulatto Blues," with its echoes of Monk. The title track features short, intense figures that are wrapped around the chord changes in an almost Cecil Taylor-esque fashion. That contrasts nicely with the elegant & romantic Juvenile." The quiet beauty of that song contrasts with Little Red Ribbon," which begins with some slightly skewed blues before ending with sheets of pulsing soundeasily my favorite tune.
So if you are that person, give yourself a break and give Mirror a listen. Remember, just relaxthere will not be a quiz later.
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