Mercury revs me up again

Look, I know this is not really something worth carping on about, but then again, that’s what the more traditional bloggers do so why not on occasion, eh?

I moaned a few days ago about the Mercury prize and its token jazz thing. Every Mercury judge who is also a journalist (two in the Guardian/Observer stable alone) is now going into print and online in order to say how they used to be cynical about it but now they’ve judged it it really is a good thing, honest.

That’s as may be – what I am interested in is the couple of slips that reveal where they are coming from when it comes to assessing the token jazz disc.

In a Guardian blog Jude Rogers admits she had never heard of/heard Portico Quartet before, which confirms my suspicion that the judges aren’t really well enough up on this particular style of music to be able to assess it very well.

Much more revealing is Kitty Empire in the Observer who says this: “Was it possible to weigh the merits of Empirical’s trad jazz against Benga’s dubstep?” Well, while the answer to that question is probably no, so why are you bothering, the more disturbing words are “trad jazz” applied to Empirical.

Now Empirical’s excellent acoustic jazz be what I referred to in the previous Mercury posting as jazz-type jazz in that they have some perfectly admirable ’60s Blue Note references in their music, but “trad” it most definitely is not – there are no discernible references in their music to Dixieland or New Orleans jazz before the 1930s, nor is there anything of the British trad boom styles of Kenny Barber, Acker Bilk, et al.

I don’t expect everyone to be au fait with the different styles of jazz, but I do expect people who have agreed to judge the stuff to at least try a bit. I bet Jude Rogers and Kitty Empire know their dubstep from their shitgaze (which I have learned is a new genre popular in Los Angeles at present).

Of course there may be a few jazzheads on the Mercury judging panel, who can advise the rest. I tried to find out who the judges were, but the Mercury website doesn’t seem to tell me. Of course, I may not have searched thoroughly.

I feel my carping energy waning. Thank heavens…



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2 replies

  1. The use of the term ‘trad jazz’ seems increasingly to be used outside the jazz community to mean something along the lines of ‘jazz as you expect it to sound like’ and nothing to do with traditional jazz meaning New Orleans jazz and various developments of that style. So trad jazz used in this way seems to encompass everything from Duke Ellington to Ornette Coleman! Very confusing!

  2. Hi all, and well done TDE – trad jazz is indeed used by the rock-press to mean ‘jazz as you expect jazz to sound like’ and yes this does create something of a minefield when read by us jazz fans.. but here’s a couple of other points – Portico Quartet, this year’s er, jazz, entry have done very well out of the Mercurys and due to the diligent efforts of all around them will be reaping the benefit for some time to come, by all means be cynical but also understand that just being nominated can, if you’re canny, and as in PQs case make great music, change your career – or at the very least accelerate it!

    So cheers Mercury and well done Elbow.. and also… and this is also worth bearing in mind, Jude Rogers may be honest enough to admit it’s the first time she heard Portico, but she also went on to write a fabulous article on the band in the Guardian, and in truth has a much firmer grasp of the band, and what makes their music tick than most so-called jazz critics who frankly don’t ‘get’ or even like Portico. and finally before y’all gripe aha well Portico only got the nomination because rock and pop critics like them but don’t ”get” the other proper jazz bands – the Mercury panel did include one ‘jazzer’ – there to see justice was done – in the shape of Mike Flynn, jazzwise contributor and Time Out London jazz critic… it is easy to be cynical but the Mercury Prize is a good thing and if anything proves time and time again that if ‘our’ music in all it’s many glories got more mainstream exposure it would do much, much better than most expect…. best Kerstan

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