I feel like Patti Smith is said to about hearing something new; wondersomely happy. ‘Break Down‘ is a great way in, from a remarkable album called Artist in Residence  and worth digging behind for more. For the moment I’ll only add that if, like me, you missed Ten, from 2010, then you should check out its compelling blend of forms and inspiring newness… [RFK In The Land Of Apartheid, to Crepescule with Nellie thru. The Subtle One and on.]
Else, all I’ll say now is that JM who is from Houston, born in 1975, also picked up the ‘genius’ award, that mesmerisingly enviable thing which grants about $100,00 a year for 5 years to a select few. The select part is what intrigues me because, as with JM, it acknowledges/enables non-mainstream, often non-commercial, actual innovators/makers of varying kinds, in a way that is definitively American. It’s impossible to conceive such a thing -or the Lannan or any other of these base encouragements- in Britain. I’m aware of an Atlantic lens but also of the actuality…
NPR’s has a blog page on JM’s MacArthur Fellowship, linking to a downloadable link to JM and the Bandwagon Live at the Village Vanguard with a short audio interview, photos and set-list, from October 2010. You don’t have to love that Coltrane album from the VV [JM is more Monk-rooted actually, see this clip], which I always did, but you might need a mind receptive to the now.
Is Britain the poorer for this absence, btw? Well, risk in the UK, in particular in England, is a commercial concept. Only. There is risk in all making, but it commercialises very fast [into what ‘works’, like the politics]. For one thing. Then there is just a stunning degree of complacency in London literary culture, in particular, when it comes to any conception or construction of making new. It’s an offensive idea, or a joke. That is; there’s an absorption of newness as novelty in Britain, an assimilation and dilution to taste, but no pursuit of innovation [or, relatedly, otherness]. Not only is it not valued as such, it’s met with inherent suspicion [outside fashion and pop hip! hip!] by a very Establishment consensus [one which, it’s true, incorporates irony, satire etc., hence the complacency].
Of course, actual newness is exceptional always and there are things of substance to say about that. But all those things shrivel next to the sheer mere fact of a thing as simple as this; Jason Moran, with Break Down/Artist in Residence, Ten, NPR’s Live at the Village Vanguard and a mass of other variantly interesting sounds which I’m only just beginning to map, let alone hear, is something that American culture is still capacious and brave enough to back [with what the MF describes modestly as “seed money for intellectual, social, and artistic endeavors … ability to transcend traditional boundaries, willingness to take risks, persistence in the face of personal and conceptual obstacles, capacity to synthesize disparate ideas and approaches”].
Apart from being a happy find for me, with experimental breadth, compositional depth and urgent bite in something like Break Down, JM undermines my increasingly settled view that the American Imperium is in well established decline [remarking upon which makes me a Communist Muslim obviously, but now I’m bragging!]. This music is many things but whether one likes it or not, it is a celebration of what America is. And it makes me happy to hear, absorb, know what it means and is…
Really, this is something wonderful, to use PS’s phrase.
> Jason Moran’s own, very well put together, site is here.
> On JM’s site, check this generous listen page.