Your opinions on reviewing

To my readers, old and new alike:

Working on this project as I have been for almost three years, I try to be as attentive to my own writing as to what I’m writing about. In an effort not to sound repetitive, I try to adapt my writing style to the nature of the album I’m reviewing. Obviously, this works more successfully some times than others. I am curious to know your opinion about what works best for you as readers. Do you prefer the more abstract, impressionistic reviews (see, for example, my recent thoughts on Angles of Repose), the more straightforward ones, or do both work in their own way? Through the former, I try to convey the feeling of the music, because anyone can look up an album to know what it is. I’m more interested in how it is. What do you think?

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11 thoughts on “Your opinions on reviewing

  1. Well, since I met you through being struck by how you managed to catch the very essence of a gig I also attended (the Four Masters Quartet at Birdland two years ago), I guess I already think you’re doing everything right. But you have also since reviewed me, so my opinion is probably moot now. Nevertheless, think you have an extraordinary sensitivity which comes out in everything you do … caring husband, father, really extraordinary singer, writer … even translator.

  2. I would prefer an impressionistic review that with your personal feelings and arguments on the reviewed album. But as you wrote: the nature of the album is important !– Reviewing a piano solo album by Keith Jarrett would cry out for a impressionistic review given the impressionistic, spot-of-the-moment kind of music. Reviewing an album with music by any classical composer like Bach or even Arvo Päth should be complimented by a review given the background of the album, perhaps the history of the compositions on the album – and perhaps of the recording itself. – So it’s really hard to say…, but I think you should follow your heart and what it tells you when you hear the album you’re reviewing 😀

  3. Tyran — I enjoy the honesty of your reviews, and leave it up to you with regards to the style you employ. Given the unique nature of what you do, I am thrilled about any information about eachrelease you could provide, as well as your opinions on both the performance and its recording. Keep them coming!! They are most appreciated!

  4. Both work in their own way. A wonderful project—please keep it going

    In particular, Robin Williamson reviews( as well as Saluzzi) were excellent and memorable—adding to the appreciation of the CDs

    Stephen

    Cape Town

  5. Just keep doing what you are doing – go where the music takes you. It works perfectly for me….thanks for providing such a treasure to those of us who have been so fortunate to have found you!

  6. I’d prefer the less impressionistic reviews myself. Much more background and analysis on the pieces on the ECM New Series recordings would be welcome, along with comparison to recordings on other labels.

    Furthermore, I’d like to see a bit more negative reviews here. ECM is a great label, and that’s why I read the posts here, but it has also put out some amount of crap in its long history. Your invariably ecstatic reviews would lead many to wonder if you are a shill for the company. If you can’t find anything bad to say, maybe it’s best to find co-reviewers who can (yes, you’ve invited me to do so, but when it comes to CDs I prefer to review exclusively at Amazon).

    Don’t let my quibbles discourage you, however. It’s still worthwhile to read this blog.

  7. Meant to get back to you on this sooner! I think you know my reaction to your question – I love your impressionistic reviews perfectly tailored to the subject – although I think they are more poetic than anything else. I love your use of metaphor and especially your evocations of landscape elements. I do like some background and some personal touches too though when appropriate. However I must admit I sometimes wonder if you like everything as much as you seem to so perhaps you don’t criticise as much as you could? You have a job for life I think so keep going as you are.

  8. Christopher Culver said: “I’d like to see a bit more negative reviews here. ECM is a great label, and that’s why I read the posts here, but it has also put out some amount of crap in its long history. Your invariably ecstatic reviews would lead many to wonder if you are a shill for the company. If you can’t find anything bad to say, maybe it’s best to find co-reviewers who can”

    Agreed. This is also the same problem that I have with John Kelman’s ECM reviews for All About Jazz. While “crap” is an entirely subjective matter, it’s somewhat hard to believe that ECM never released (or, releases) a dud. Be it ECM, Blue Note, Impulse!, etc., all labels have had their fair share of what some (if not many) listeners would (should?) consider stinkers.

    That said… I do indeed always look forward to seeing what title you’re going to tackle next. Be it in a more or less impressionistic manner.

  9. Personally I’m not sure of just what ‘crap’ has released over the years. For me ‘crap’ is music created to cash in on a trend, target a desired demographic or regurgitate shopworn performers with little to say over and again.

    I don’t get that from ECM. Obviously there are releases which elude me. Releases with which I connect not at all. But overwhelmingly those ‘failures’ are, in my view, serious attempts at creating something genuine which just doesn’t work for me. Sometimes it’s the listener, not the music. For instance while I have never been able to wade through, say, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, that says more about me than the book itself.

    And frankly far from shilling for ECM I find these discussions give the label the respect it more than deserves.

    There is *nothing* remotely close to ECM in the music world. The merging of beautifully recorded music with cutting edge graphic design and photography is really unique. Eichler at ECM has done something utterly original. The ECM vision is a universe unto itself.

    If there is any problem it isn’t that the reviews and discussion here are too favorable to ECM, rather, the rest of the media world isn’t doing justice to the contribution we are so lucky to be receiving.

    1. I thank you deeply for these comments, Richard. I’ve been at pains to articulate what you’ve already done so well. My opinions on every ECM recording I review are genuine. While there are some albums I may not connect to so readily, I try my best to take each on its own terms, to give the artists due attention to what they were trying to achieve. There is certainly a place for criticism, but it is generally not a language in which I am comfortable speaking (at least insofar as music is concerned, for as an academic I am practically required to speak it). If readers want negative reviews, there are plenty of venues for the same, all of which are important in the ongoing discussion of music as a living part of our lives. On that note, my most critical review so far is of The Epidemics, an album that continues to elude me. This has no bearing on its inherent worth. One person’s “crap” may be another’s fond memory. Music takes on meaning not only by virtue of its existence, but also through its association with personal experiences. Music we once loved can be tarnished by painful associations, just as music we detest can become familiar and meaningful to us in conjunction with profound awakenings. Case in point: my recent “second look” at the 1983 Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette record. I originally gave it a rather uninspired review. Professional jazz guitarist Hannes De Kassian responded with a very constructive rebuttal, in which he alerted me to the talents of the musicians involved. While talent, of course, doesn’t necessarily make a great album, his insights as a musician were of great importance to me. I took them seriously. I gave the album another chance, taking what I had gained from that learning moment, clearing away the cobwebs of my own preconceptions and accepting the music for what it was.

      On that note, my tastes are eclectic and passionate, and whether it’s a microtonal riddle from Joe Maneri’s sax or a cadence from the hands of pianist András Schiff, I see a deep continuity running through all that the label’s musicians are trying to achieve. ECM has given me, among many other insights, the ability to look beyond the prescription of labels and genres. As the great Roscoe Mitchell once said, “For myself, I don’t call music anything but music.” This doesn’t mean that ECM cannot slip comfortably in and out of categorical grooves, but only that it has always been as much a forum for nascent or otherwise neglected voices as it has been for those more established. For this reason, it stands alone as a vital archive to the development of 20th century music on many fronts. I feel compelled to describe how the music feels to the best of my ability in the hopes that those on the fence about whether to buy any given album will be better equipped to judge whether or not it may be for them.

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