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On Their Terms

Alexander P. Brown
Staff Writer
alexanderparisbrown[at]gmail.com / @RelaxAndAspire

Yesterday I had the fortunate experience of having to explain who Christian Scott is, due to sporting the Christian Scott/Nextbop shirt one balmy Atlanta evening. A couple of mutual acquaintances, taken by the image asked who Scott was, one jokingly chastising his compatriot “He’s a horn player obviously!” pointing to the shirt. After a few good natured guffaws my opportunity to introduce Scott, and by extension, the modern jazz landscape introduced itself.

I could’ve gone for the easy way out, “He’s like our generation’s Miles during the fusion era,” but being reductionist is so gauche, and as a music writer it’s damn insulting to an individual artist. On the other hand, I could’ve went on my phone and dug up the artist’s jazz family tree and related how his approaches are an extension of his family, his home locale and education, but who outside of already jazz aficionados, who these two were not, would understand and be engaged?

In the end I had to use language they would understand, comparing Scott and his work akin to the monumental post-rock groups of the former decade, especially the recently reformed Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They took to this idea rather quickly, an artist doing something similar to jazz what GY!BE did to orchestral compositions.

Taken at face value, jazz is a rather intimidating genre to people genuinely interested in music past the radio and major music video stations. I know any music genre that is thought of as a collegiate field of study and not just a social studies credit has a bit of leg work to do to not be viewed in terms likened to the stuffy professors teaching them.

But the ability is out there. If I were talking to two different people I knew in different circumstances, maybe I would suggest they pick up some of Roy Hargrove’s work based on their love (and loss) of D’Angelo or some of Charlie Hunter’s work if you appreciate the sound of John Mayer, but not necessarily his (Mayer’s) overwhelming douchey-ness.

And in this way I think that the smooth jazz subgenre has it’s advantages. When one seeks to introduce a smooth jazz record to a new listener, no one thinks to relate the way the guitarist has descended down the line from Wes Montgomery and George Benson to their current style of interpreting a Maroon 5 composition; it’s just a different and cool way of listening to a pop song they already like.

In the same way most music listeners could give a care less whether their favorite Metal band plays in drop C or a step and a half down listeners of jazz, especially new listeners, are not going to care about the vast amount of technical details that burdens jazz criticism and reviews. Music lovers ultimately care about what sounds good, and how a piece of work makes them feel and if they relate to it. Everything else starts sounding like a foreign language, and language shouldn’t be one more barrier jazz has to overcome.

Alexander Brown is a freelance writer. More of his work can be found at his blog Relax and Aspire.