Amiri Baraka: Perspectives on Music and Race
Within part 3 of the book, "Notes, Reviews and Observations" Baraka points out that Peter Brotzmann's group, "Die Like A Dog" has an emotional content that disconnects style from substance and replaces it with a one-sided, flap snap shot of the form as path, but is unable to conceive of where that path leads. It's interesting that Baraka should single out Peter Brotzmann for an analysis on the approach of a specific artist. Peter Brotzmann who is from Germany, cannot identify nor express the African American experience anymore than Baraka can understand the pain for an artist from a country responsible for the Jewish Holocaust. Furthermore, two of today's greatest African American artists in music are Hamid Drake and William Parker who are both in the group Baraka mentioned previously, "Die Like A Dog." In every instance and in every musical setting that Drake and Parker are a part of, there is a musical imprint within the music that cannot be denied. Based on Baraka's statement, does this mean that when Hamid Drake and William Parker share music with Brotzmann that they somehow lose their Blackness?
But it doesn't end here. Baraka goes onto say, "When the emotional content of this music is missing, as it is here and from a depressing number of other players of the 'new music,' it becomes formalist and academic." Ironically, that's exactly the approach of Baraka's writing, which attempts to dismiss the work of a man who is more sympathetic to the African American experience than most people I have met in my previous 40 years." What's more, part of the problem is with those who are more than willing to try and "own" music as if art, a living entity, can be owned and told exactly what it is expected to do. A form of slavery, clearly not yet understood.
Within this very same chapter, Baraka proceeds to review the exceptional historic album that Joe McPhee recorded in 1970 titled, Nation Time. Baraka declares, "McPhee is often in danger of being the other pole of what happens to influence without depth, impact without complete understanding of WHY the paradigmatic expression emerged in the first place." It's the judgmental attacks on the artist, rather than a review of the music that I find unnecessary and disappointing, and raises questions about the integrity of the book, especially from a writer that has produced such extraordinary work. Furthermore, Joe McPhee who is African American has been collaborating with Peter Brotzmann for a number of years, on a number of inspired projects. Is it just a coincidence that Baraka has chosen to review McPhee's recording within the same chapter as Brotzmann's? I think not.
In the chapter titled, "Cosby and the Music," Baraka states, "They said, Bob Dylan, he's really a revolutionary writerbut I think one of the greatest records made then was Marvin Gaye's What's Goin On? And that comes right out of jazz. It's closely related to Miles, Bird, Diz. The sound and the consciousness." My argument here is that the greatness of Gaye's music should be celebrated and not compared to any musician or artist. This is the brilliance of both Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan. Why should their work be diminished by making comparisons, when their genius is in the individual expression and art form that is uniquely their own. How can they, and why should they be compared against each other? Why do some writers continue to take this approach?
Baraka goes onto mention that classical music is being represented as "the" music of Beethoven, "the" music of Bach and "the" music of Bartok. But never is Duke's music, "the" music of Duke Ellington or "the" music of Monk. That would confer a station and dignity on the music that the racist superstructure has never wanted to allow. I find this very bizarre. Every music fan of jazz that I know, regardless of color, loves this music and the people that create it. Are they a part of the racist superstructure as well? If he has specific names, I'll be the first to ask that he call them out. But to take a full sweep over the heads of those that love, admire and respect these artists is narrow and short sighted.