Hard Bop Is Alive And Well - No Need For An Apology
There is a tendency in some zones of the jazz world to devalue what can be loosely described as earlier styles. This particularly so by a certain species of jazz critic who want to proclaim that they are riding on and perhaps exclusively appreciating the crest of some new wave. Why should we not appreciate the musicians, bands and styles from all the periods that constitute the relatively short history of jazz? Novelty does not by definition have an intrinsic value that in a sense annihilates what has gone before.
I am always interested, when catching a set of two at a stylistically diverse range of gigs, to watch the audience and try to gauge their reaction to what is being presented to them. I think we must accept that at most jazz venues really passionate enthusiasts are in a minority. We - ultra hip few (he said jokingly) - might enjoy amusing and ingenious quotes during the course of an improvisation knowing full well that they will go unnoticed by the majority. But that does not mean that the majority are not enjoying the music. Given a really good band and what is very important a verbal - an essential feature - and musical communication with an audience, most gigs - whatever the style - can be a rewarding experience for both the musicians and the paying public.
I had such thoughts in mind when I caught the middle set at The Music Village on a Saturday night. The band - from The Netherlands - was Jazz Xpress. This great, tight, group of musicians, were mainly playing a hard bop repertoire. They were performing in their own right but also there to back the superb Deborah Brown. Throughout there was a level of energy and rapport that had the audience - metaphorically speaking - on the edge of their seats.
This is not just a matter of serving up what you think the audience will like. But there is a great difference between an audience who knowingly and willingly go to a Peter Brötzmann concert when compared with a more general public. Playing accessible music does not debauch the art form. Hard Bop still has much to offer. For me - assuming a high level of musicianship- it comes across as both fresh and musically stimulating. And judging from the reluctance of the audience I was observing to vacate their seats I can only assume that they had were similarly entranced.