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Feeling Untethered

Chick Corea died yesterday. Nobody was really expecting this. Mind you, we never seem to really expect it; the musicians that hold meaning for us are often the ones that we have taken into ourselves, ones that arrive in stages of our lives that are full of gaps. My dad either bought or owned a copy of Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy which I ended up listening to repeatedly, somewhere around the age of fifteen. It sounded like alien music - which is perhaps the point - but, as was the case with teenage CD collections, I had to listen to it because that was what there was. Did I like it? I don't really know.

Childhood musical experiences are a bit like inoculations in reverse. They prime you to accept, deep into yourself, the real thing. Even the words Chick Corea feel tethered to the feeling of that CD in my hand. But is that alone why I love this music? I had many CDs, but only a few really landed with long-term significance. There must be something else going on, a reason why I can sit down at the end of the day and immerse myself in Chick's records, but not other records I wore out as a child (which included everything from Steve Vai's The Ultrazone to a string of questionable outings by shreddy electric bassists).

Perhaps it is to do with the way that some of these records are tethered, once again, to their own time. They were important because they were good, but they are also good because they were important. I hope it doesn't sound too negative to say that the jazz fusion boom of the 70s was perhaps the last time that people doing jazz-type-activity were tuned into contemporary popular music culture at any kind of significant scale. The two bodies were close enough that they could feel each other's pulses. They kept each other warm, at least at the extremities.

Just as with any breakup, both sides might say it's me, not you. From the point of view of creative musicians, societal movements in 2021 seem fragmented, muted, stunted. There are no great waves, only confusing cross-currents and undertows. The sonic references we throw out in search of contemporary feeling still tend to reach back and land in the radicalism of the 60s and 70s; analog synths, abstraction, fusion and cross-genre-ism. Today's cutting edge in jazz sometimes feels like it is facing backwards. Some of the cuts - especially in terms of the cultural biases that manifest themselves in narrow representations of our society on stage and record - need making again. Others are there simply because we seem to have run out of pieces of fabric big enough to hold in our hands.

So farewell to Chick. He was a great musician, a true genius. I know many musicians will still be pulling on that tether as we keep trying to make music that lands, somewhere. Perhaps a different planet is a good place to take aim.


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