Which do you hate most – jazz or heavy metal?

19 Apr

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So there we were, happily chatting away.

‘And what else do you do?’ she asked.

‘Well,’ I began tentatively, ‘I write about music sometimes.’

Her face brightened. ‘Ooh I love music. What sort do you write about?’

I drew a deep breath, then – in the spirit of in for a penny, in for a pound – I ventured: ‘Jazz and heavy metal.’

Long pause. What’s the opposite of ‘brightening’ when you’re talking about faces? Whatever it is, that’s what hers now did.

‘Oh,’ she resumed finally. ‘Actually what I should have said is that I love all music EXCEPT jazz and heavy metal.’ She looked at me searchingly. Was she going to throw up?

Now, I’ve had this reaction before. In fact, you might even say it’s the standard reaction you get when you confess a love of jazz and/or heavy metal to non-initiates. It’s an odd phenomenon since most people who make such pronouncements wouldn’t know their Kurt Elling from their Kvelertak, or even (to take more time-honoured, canonical examples) their Mahavishnu Orchestra from their Metallica. Shameful.

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Anyway, the moral of all this is that jazz and heavy metal fans should stick together. They have much in common apart from their social-pariah status – musically there’s a strong shared heritage. It’s often said that the Beatles invented heavy metal in 1968 with Paul McCartney’s smirkily OTT performance on Helter Skelter, but the truth is that the free-jazz sax player Peter Brötzmann got there first with Machine Gun – and he didn’t even need a guitar (or a pair of spandex trousers) to do it either. You can listen to Brötzmann’s cacophonous masterpiece here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wgA9L5TN5M.

And a lot of jazzers still flirt with metal influences, most obviously Leeds improv-squallers Trio VD, or just VD as we fans like to call them. (‘Fancy going out to catch VD tonight?’ ‘Yeah, great.’ That’s the kind of conversation you can have with your buddies when the boys are in town to play a gig – surely reason enough to love them.) Here’s a clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtAxI5oLNS8

Wait and see what happens when the saxophonist starts fiddling with his FX box around the three-minute mark. It’ll give you a headache – in that really good way that only the finest-quality metal-jazz fusion can.

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