A musician friend of mine has no ear for jazz; he says that jazz sells itself as impromptu, divine intervention when it is nothing more than applied knowledge.
My father argues that jazz musicians are a discordant lot, playing whatever they want to play, inconsiderate of each other.
Avoiding an argument on the virtues of a particular jazz idiom, like be-bop or swing, I concede that together these statements are true. Then I think about something jazz drummer Chuck McPherson once told me: that the Grateful Dead was a jazz band, because they were driven by emotion.
Jazz has long been the topic of a million drunken conversations, and the debate is as much about defending the musicians we love as it is about form.
The Industrial Jazz Group speaks to the argument in a way that other post-modern jazz bands don't. The L.A.-based ensemble conjures emotions and challenges (confuses?) me intellectually, but the important point is that bandleader Andrew Durkin does it deliberately.
Durkin says that the band's nomenclature can be misleading. Typically, the term “industrial,” when applied to music, refers to the symphony of metal and grease-hard-driving clicking and clacking-of house deejays or the percussion troupe from Stomp! But Durkin says that the “industrial” in Industrial Jazz Group refers to the well-oiled and purposeful structure of the music.
“But this is jazz,” he asserts. “Sometimes a soloist will play something that doesn't work, and then he'll get more used to the piece and come back and play something more appropriate.”
There is a cinematic chaos about the band's latest album, The Star Chamber. These powerful and dramatic movements set up gaps for wild and far-reaching solos that know to come home after dark. And like a great drug film, Chamber peaks with a swimming-in-water-as-symbolic-rebirth scene, followed by renewed vigor and humor.
Musically, it's Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain meets the big-band swing of 1930s film-delicate flute solos clash against proud trumpet toots announcing royalty-with influence from Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington, composer Kurt Weill and pugilist Frank Zappa.
It's the 1935 Midsummer Night's Dream starring Mickey Rooney as Puck as performed by the characters of the dirty be-bop of Looney Tunes' “The Three Little Bops.”
“There is a lot more electric bass in the new material that may lend itself to people letting go a little bit more,” Durkin says. “The new material draws on certain pop forms-do-wop, R&B, blues. It's more groove-based with other things happening on top of that groove.”
Even by Durkin's standards, Chamber is a loose album, with more open space for soloists. But it's not like Durkin points to a trumpet player and says, “Go.” He has faith in his crew that when the time comes to solo, knowledge and emotion will find common ground.
“Improv itself is not the main point of the record, but another tool, another element of the composition.”
IJG is now a 10-piece-with flutes, saxophones, clarinets, trombone, piano, drums, electric bass and trumpet-which forces Durkin to write in more open space and to let go of his brainchild when it's ready to mature.
When the band finished recording last January, Durkin restrained himself from overdubbing or editing, instead opting to protect the album's organic carpe diem. The result is a raw, live experience in which the tracks are more like suites in a longer movement.
David Grisman once rhetorically asked, “What is jazz? Duke Ellington? Miles Davis in 1958 or Miles Davis in 1968?”
Durkin might answer that it is a unity between composer and musician, in which the outcome is both moving and stimulating.
The Industrial Jazz Group performs at Dizzy's, 9 p.m. on Nov. 15. $8. 858-270-7467.