A very worthwhile effort, entirely wrongly presented
Jan P. Dennis | Monument, CO USA | 06/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This glorious music, an abortive attempt to cash in on the huge but fleeting public infatuation with Gregorian Chant freakishly captured and memorialized in the monster international hit album, Chant, by the Santo Domingo de Silos Monks' Choir, illustrates much that's right--and a whole lot that's wrong--with jazz. For the average listener, there will be little if any connection between the Silos Monks' Choir and the music contained on this disc. Why, then, would the brains behind Venus Records of Japan, the company that commissioned these proceedings, and Todd Barkan, probably the moving force behind Musicmasters, the American company who picked up the license, position this music as if it could somehow coattail onto the serendipitous success of Chant? Surely they could've realized that there was such a tenuous connection between the two as to render any benefit by association as almost certainly ephemeral?And yet.The reality is that there probably was a significant connection in the incredibly fertile mind of Paul Bley, iconoclast Canadian keysman, who undoubtedly was the musical genius and driving force behind this project. The mistake on the part of the record execs is that they (apparently) believed they could parlay such a connection into sales. Thus, they positioned this otherwise fine disc as a kind of adjunct to the burgeoning chant phenomenon. Big mistake.How could've they thought the millions of buyers of Chant would scoop up their avant garde jazz offering, despite its being inspired by the same source, Gregorian Plainchant? To these ears, which have encountered their fair share of both jazz and Gregorian Chant, there seems to be little of the latter in Modern Chant. How then, would the average Joe Schmo listener make the connection? He wouldn't.And, thus, this project would predictably languish in the backwaters of the jazz world, itself a rather insignificant player in the cultural musicscape. Which it has done.On the other hand, how should've they positioned it? As Paul Bley's latest? Who knows or cares about Paul Bley? It's easy to see how they could've been convinced to at least try to capitalize on the chant craze. And remember this: just because nobody knows about it doesn't mean it isn't really pretty spectacular music. From the liner notes, it appears that these are all spontaneous compositions, somehow inspired by the music of Gregorian chant. As a record of pure improvisation, it is really quite successful, and, in some cases, amazing. For one thing, it seems much more accessible than European exercises in the same genre: there are, for example, often clearly discernable melodies. For another, the three musicians (Paul Bley, piano; David Eyges, electric cello; and Bruce Ditmas, drums) seem amazingly attuned to each other. All three have extensive and impeccable free-jazz roots, and they mesh beautifully. Also, chant seems to provide a natural seedbed of tonal material that lends such proceedings an unaccustomed richness of melody.So forget, if you can, the bizarre marketing of Modern Chant. Forget its weird origins, if you can. Simply put it on and revel in its sonic wonders. And try not to contemplate too seriously the folly of the jazz world."