"Pissing In The Wind"
By Beppe Colli
Jan. 18, 2018

Right on schedule, the New York-based blog called Do The Gig opened its doors on January, 1st. I'm pretty sure readers remember that Do The Gig is a "pragmatic offshoot" of the much-appreciated, widely read, Do The Math: an erudite, sometimes definitely "scholarly", blog penned by U.S. pianist Ethan Iverson.

Incorporating a "critical spirit" with strong pragmatic leanings - something I'll call "typically American" - Iverson has always regarded the betterment portion of education as something really important, while at the same time taking into consideration - side-by-side with many interviews and editorials - the specific times Jazz music has to survive in nowadays.

With the generous coverage given to Jazz by the Village Voice long in the past, it was the decision by the New York Times to eliminate most music and concert reviews - something that for Jazz musicians meant great visibility all over the world, and being part of a validation process - that proved to be a clear signal that Jazz was on life support.

Do The Gig features a list of the concerts of the week, and some reviews with pictures and critical notes that are svelte but not superficial.

In many ways, Do The Gig functions as a life preserver, in a scenery where fans are said to be still interested in attending live concerts, where they'll be able - if they wish so - to buy physical items.

It goes without saying that Do The Gig stands on voluntary work.

Like every year, during the Holiday Season I sent messages to many people all over the world, something which also works as a pretext for me to ask about the current state of affairs, professional and otherwise.

Of course, by now I'm used at reading really bad news, but this year it was the pits. There's no point for me going into details. I'll only say that things appear about to reach a "stall" status, for reasons I'll call "systemic" but that have their roots in the actual individual behavior, whose summation then originates a desert.

In prehistoric times, (U.S. rock group) Phish had a website where one could find those reviews written in English language that dealt with the group's output. There were also interviews and articles. Fans all over the world were able to read those materials.

On my desktop I have a folder with a lot of Phish reviews, and I recently had a look at those about Round Room - the first Phish album I reviewed on Clouds And Clocks - that appeared in print between December, 2002 and January, 2003.

With the exception of a couple of webzines, a radio station, and not much else, here's the full list:

Billboard Magazine

Los Angeles Times

Chicago Tribune

Boston Globe

Rocky Mountain News

Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Boston Herald

Scarlet & Black (Grinnell College, Iowa)

Star Ledger (NJ)

Chicago Sun-Times

The Buffalo News

USA Today

New York Post

Iowa State Daily

Seven Days Vermont

Phoenix New Times

News & Record (Greensboro, NC)

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

The Washington Post

The Columbus Dispatch

The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk)

Tulsa World

Philadelphia Inquirer

Baltimore Sun

Lantern (Ohio State University)

Music Today

Rolling Stone Magazine

IGN Entertainment

Riverfront Times

The Dartmouth

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Beacon Journal

Kansas Weekender

We have to keep in mind the role of the daily newspaper as "a door to culture" for citizens. Funny to notice I recognized more than a few reviewer names, since at a certain time the daily press became by default a life saver for many critics whose life at the (bi)monthlies had become difficult. Let's not forget that the daily press was also the place where many music writers had started their professional career, as one can read in the many interviews that (once) appeared on Rock Critics.

While it's true that nowadays the number of music websites is practically endless, one has to consider that in the old days those who worked at the dailies received proper remuneration, which sometimes could even be defined as "a salary". And when the books made it possible, newspapers also employed critics who wrote about jazz, classical music, fine arts, cinema, theatre, and so on.

A piece of news that caused great commotion in the first week of the year was the announcement that U.S. music label Cuneiform - a name that needs no introduction for adventurous rock and jazz fans - would release no new titles in 2018.

I have to admit I was quite surprised, but there were also those who, in a public Forum, declared "I'm surprised they lasted this long". My surprise was also great because in a few magazine Polls at year's end Cuneiform's releases had fared quite well.

Of course, I know nothing more than what's been officially stated. But provided profits keep the books in the black, I can't imagine any other reason to stop.

Since the time I was a child, I've always been nave about the way things are "cooked" in the media. But it's obvious that ad size and placement and the "luminosity" of critical pronouncements are at the core of any act of "communication". However, we have to keep in mind that the multiplication process when it comes to new music releases has greatly diminished the importance of record reviews, so it's interviews, cover stories, articles, fine colour pictures, and the number of pages dedicated to a topic, that clearly show a magazine's "priorities".

All fine and dandy, provided the horse drinks. But, as they say, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." What if the horse stops drinking? This - alas! - is the current situation, with readers reacting to the "bait" by simply "experiencing" music, with no sale. Entrepreneurial logic would suggest cutting ads as a proper way to act. But in a world that's overcrowded with stimuli, "not being there" equals "disappearing". Like a gambler, an advertiser can only hope that it's only his/her money that will beat the odds!

Having a look around increasingly shows a macabre spectacle. There's the label owner who polices Forums (under his real name) in order to protect his releases; the critic who once regarded anything less complex than King Crimson as a travesty and who now extols the virtues of Marillon; the one who copies excerpts of his own reviews on various Forums, fearing that the albums he reviews will get fewer clicks than what's considered satisfactory by the (virtual) magazine and the record company; and so on.

Negative reviews have long disappeared, while competence is definitely less than plentiful. There are those who trace impossible parallels - a track by 10cc as a close cousin to dub, what about that? - and those who, maybe for reasons of (young) age, cannot properly decipher the press release they have to "consult" in order to write their review.

While writing those letters to friends in the U.S.A (maybe my sample is faulty, but it appears that by now most Italian people I know only talk to their neighbors living on the same floor), I thought to ask their opinion about the movie A Ghost Story (a "limited theatrical release" in the United States, the movie was released on Monday in Europe as a DVD-V), if they'd watched it, and if it was worth my money. I was quite surprised to read nobody had ever heard of it.

Which is quite strange, since - for many reasons which I won't divulge here - A Ghost Story is not the kind of movie one forgets about so easily. Even not considering the usual Festival coverage, there's a great quantity of reviews - I'll only mention A.O. Scott in the New York Times and Matt Zoller Seitz on Roger Ebert.com, while as a European bonus I'll mention Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

I was told that nowadays critics are not really influential, word of mouth being where it's at. But what kind of word of mouth can possibly get a movie that gets no theatrical release, except for the one produced by critics? Which is exactly my point.

Beppe Colli 2018

CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 18, 2018