In a recent Q&A on reddit, someone asked Steve Albini why he didn’t like jazz music.
“Because it sucks and I’m tired of hearing about it. Believe me I’ve tried. I just hate the parts I hate about it more than I like the little things there are to like. The batting average is just so low I can’t bear the dead time between highlights being filled with all that noodling. It’s vain music.”
Of course, I can sorta understand the impulse behind his reaction to a lot of jazz. If above all else you value compositional structure in music, so much “noodling” could be a big turnoff. Eitherway, Albini’s assessment immediately made me question what I valued most in jazz music, so I turned to some beloved tracks to help me figure it out. Going through my ‘favorites’ playlist on YouTube, I was pleasantly reminded of “Asama,” an early-70s flash of manic but syrupy free-jazz from the Akira Miyazawa Quartet.
I guess the track has a lot of “in-between noodling” — it begins with a beautiful, almost Dave Brubeck-esque theme, backed by a droning string sound, before plummeting into a more chaotic and free approach to soloing. What is there to value here? For one — as if I even have to say it — the energy! How the drums would seem batshit crazy taken alone, but in the context of the song glue everything together through intense, driving interplay. It creates a continuously evolving suspense that is never truly satisfied. But that’s the joy of it all, to me — those “in-between” moments that make you question how it’s all held together.
“Asama” doesn’t feel overtly academic or showoff-ish. It’s more about capturing lightning in a bottle, finding excitement in the ephemera of performance and interaction. You could argue the same spirit resides in most visceral, thrilling music.