New York Is Now! BOOK review [Phil Freeman]

Book Reviews
New York Is Now! BOOK review [Phil Freeman]
Sep 1, 2001, 04:07

NEW YORK IS NOW!: THE NEW WAVE OF FREE JAZZ by Phil Freeman; The Telegraph Company, 2001

We're all opinionated here, aren't we? So I really can't hold it against Phil Freeman that he's written what is, in essence, an extended screed that is part condemnation and part advocacy. Freeman has narrowed his sights to the NYC cohort of free jazz musicians concentrated around Matthew Shipp, William Parker, David S. Ware, and the Aum Fidelity label in general. And as a passionate supporter of these musicians Freeman is effective and knowledgeable. He makes a case for the value of the musicians he covers and by concentrating on players like Roy Campbell or Daniel Carter on a chapter by chapter basis (along with the aforementioned musicians) Freeman provides some valuable insight. No, there is nothing wrong with passionate and informed fandom.

Unfortunately, it's the bigger picture where New York is Now! falls short. Freeman makes a big deal about the fact that he comes to free jazz from a background as a fan of heavy music and makes some good points about the embrace of free and improvising musicians by the indie rock community. Unfortunately, he has decided to pipe in with his two cents about current jazz music and that's where I have some problems with this book.

Phil Freeman has summoned up the hobgoblin of my little mind. He is inconsistent. Freeman rightfully condemns the Stanley Crouch/Wynton Marsalis crowd for their inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the place of free music in the jazz continuum and goes at Ken Burns's Jazz documentary and it's dismissal of the last 40 years of improvised music with hammers and tongs. But at the same time, Freeman decides that he too can decide who is and isn't worthy of jazz legitimacy. So shortly after declaiming jazz critics' attempts to write Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane out of the jazz tradition, Freeman writes off John Zorn:

He is at heart a dilettante, and this scattershot, all-things-being-equal approach is disrespectful to the music he absorbs and spits back… Everything he does is always diluted with something else; it's as if he's afraid to commit himself… He's a huckster… He is not a jazz musician. He follows no tradition.

Freeman returns to pick on Zorn a few chapters later when describing the Vision Fest and the supposed detriments of Zorn's involvement. All of which ends up reading like scenester sour grapes. Whatever the faults of John Zorn's music, detailing them does nothing to expose the strengths of Test or Joe Morris. By getting bogged down in penny ante debates about who is or isn't a jazz musician, Freeman loses track. By the end of this book Freeman comes across as being as tight assed and exclusive about music as most of the critics he condemns.

-Bruce Adams

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