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When Two Worlds Collide

Michael Finnissy, Cecil Taylor

…Collide in a good way, that is… The world of “avant” classical and “avant” jazz (I know I know, half of you will cringe at the labels, but it’s as good as we’re going to get here) share so much in common: a long and staid tradition and preconception to fight past and against, to push and trespass beyond; interest in new sounds, new forms, new aesthetics; an intensity of commitment to their vision, even when it might mean a long spell of creating and performing in the shadow of those taking the safe path.

But for all their similarities, there’s also often a kind of fine barrier that keeps many on the classical side from truly “getting” the jazz side, and vice-versa. Differences in approach, language, culture maybe; maybe also a little intimidation with the unknown. (Like my own mystification upon entering a McDonalds — where do you go? How do you order off that board? Do I get my drink, sit down, pick it up where? — when every regular does it all on autopilot.)

To hear the voices cross over and talk about the other is always interesting, and a recent guest post at Jeff Jackson’s and  Jeff Golick’s jazz blog Destination:Out seems particularly welcome. In

Some Current Trends in Contemporary Classical Music: An Improviser’s Guide

Steve Lehman — one of the few who fully (and formidably) inhabits both worlds, as both composer and saxophonist — gives “out-jazz” folk an introduction to the likes of Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murail, Michael Finnissy, Helmut Lachenmann and Beat Furrer. The notes on each come from a slight jazz angle, and Steve thoughtfully includes audio of representative works. The comments after the post are also good and worth reading.

A few of the terms and comparisons may be unfamiliar to the avant-classical fan, but really we’re mostly talking, listening, and thinking about the same things. It’s a fairly “eurocentric” list, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And truth told, there are plenty of new-music types on our side, that are still largely unaware of some of these developments, and can only benefit from Steve’s little musical tour.