Friday, November 02, 2007

Samizdat in the Information Age.

It already seems an aeon ago. The days of the Soviet Union. When we in the ‘free’ west regularly read of the plight of writers and artists under what we were assured was an oppressive regime. Writing in secret, smuggling manuscripts, illicitly copying and passing on of work, all of which if you were caught in possession of, could result in some harsh penalties. Samizdat it was called, a play on Russian for self-publishing and the names official Soviet publishing houses had such as Politizdat or Detizdat.

I mention Samizdat because recently I read a blogpost that was about blogging and the internet. It would seem that moves are afoot in Italy to enact legislation regarding the freedom of speech in cyberspace. The Levi-Prodi law wants to ensure that ‘anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money’. This according to Italian anti-government campaigner Beppe Grillo.

No doubt some see in this a sinister move to halt free speech and the free exchange of information. And you have to say they would probably be right. There must be many in the establishments of Europe and the Unites States who are deeply uneasy about the way in which opinions and information can move across the web without them or any of their client departments having much control. But I suspect, moves such as the Levi-Prodi law are about money as much as repression. We live in a part of the world where market values are, in effect, the prevailing ideology. (though I use the term ideology loosely because I don’t think many of the poltical brains of our time have probably ever done much serious thinking – plenty of justification - but little serious thinking). I suspect what irks some of these people is that in their view there is a huge ‘market’ there yet to be tapped. For in the case of the above legislative proposal it is not hard to imagine that registration will not be free, certification will need to be paid for and of course both these will be topped off with a tax.

The connection with Samizdat is of course ideology. The Soviet state sought control over its writers and artists because it feared they might ‘contaminate’ Communist ideology. Of course, often times, it was just simple brutality and spite. However the ideological aspect was the justification. In our society of market forces and market values many writers and artists already work using a form of Samizdat. The blogosphere, (I know it is and awful term), and the Internet in general, provide a means of sharing work and getting response. For in order to be viewed through the mainstream channels of communication one needs now, it seems, more and more to fulfill the requirements of the ideology. That is, your art – your product – must be marketable, must be merchandisable and its success must be able to be determined in units sold and revenue generated.

True, caught in possession of something outside that framework will not result in imprisonment or a stretch in the gulag. But a life in unsuitable or low paying work, without any means of self-expression or confirmation of your creativity can be a sentence of its own.

(If you want to know more about this legislation click here)

Copyright (C) Peter Millington Now 2007

It Takes Two: Kenny Wheeler's Understatement.

The album, It Takes Two, by Kenny Wheeler has been on general issue now for over a year. It was released in June 2006 by CamJazz, the Italian label launched in 2000.

Kenny Wheeler is such an understated and subtle artist that his music is not something the discerning listener jumps carelessly into. His playing has a way of sneaking up on you. Of winding its way into your consciousness so, only after some time, do you become aware of how good it is, how perfectly crafted and performed. Add this to the fact that on this outing he is accompanied by John Abercrombie, a supremely lyrical and perceptive guitarist and it becomes apparent that time has to pass before a judgement can be made.

Having said that this is the first of his albums to leave me a just little disappointed. That is not to say there is some beautiful music here, some fine playing and performances. A slightly unsatisfying recording would be perhaps be the best description. Outside of Kenny’s flugelhorn, there are the contributions of the above mentioned John Abercrombie, John Parricelli – a British guitarist and the Swedish bass player Anders Jormin.

Highlights of the album are My New Hat, a dreamy number that opens with Jormin’s bowed bass striking a distinctly Moorish motif before the two guitars, (electric and acoustic) enter, creating a space over which the flugelhorn floats in its melody. It Takes Two follows - a typical Wheeler piece of music - the horn uncovering hidden harmonic and melodic spaces, then bending into the upper or lower registers in those sudden turns of which he is so capable, while the guitars trade an almost pizzicato style of soloing and accompaniment. But it is on track three, Comba Nr 3, that the combined talents of all four musicians come best together. A beautiful, haunting melody, full of, again, Moorish hints, southern European folkloric motifs and the north American urban landscape. The spacing of the instruments, their timing, their presence and absence at critical points make the track the prefect vehicle for Wheeler’s unique musical sense.

Other high points are Love Theme from Spartacus, just the two guitars with fingers sliding and the occasional sigh or grunt delightfully adding to its immediacy. One of Many, a lovely flowing piece which John Abercrombie augments with his clear, singing guitar lines. And, Fanfare, an overdubbed horn piece that brings to mind the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaboration of Sketches of Spain. The two improvised pieces, no 1 and no 2, are interesting but strictly just that, improvisations, that tempt but do not completely convince of their necessity.

Despite this the album leaves me a little wanting. It seems at times to float away, to become so understated in intent that you find your mind wandering and not wandering as it should into places the music brings it. Nevertheless, such has been Kenny Wheeler’s credibility over the years that it may be it just requires more listening time. That it needs to sink in a little more before the entirety of its musical ideas, its palette becomes apparent.

However in the overall scheme of things these are minor quibbles. This is still an excellent and commendable work. An essential for those who lean to chamber jazz. For those who prefer the subtly of a C├ęzanne over the boldness of a Picasso.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington Nov 2007