My New Policy: Less, But Better, Reviews

When I began this blog in March 2016, one of my primary goals was just to write about the music and musicians I really loved and not have to review music and artists that didn’t interest me. Over the past five years, however, and especially in the last two years as my blog has gotten more attention and popularity than I ever envisioned, record labels and promoters have sent me a ton of classical and jazz recordings for consideration. I try to be fair and open-minded to everything I receive, but as time has gone on the quotient of recordings I really enjoy has slipped considerably while the number of recordings I’ve given so-so or somewhat negative reviews to haw increased exponentially, and that has become not only worrisome but a real hassle for me.

My readers know that I am actually very happy that the ironclad grip which the “Big Labels” of the past (RCA Victor, Columbia, Decca, EMI, Philips and Deutsche Grammophon) has not only loosened but become reduced to a half-hearted handshake with the classical music business. Add to that the collapse of major agencies like Columbia Artists’ Management Inc. (CAMI), and you can see that we now have an entirely different playing field. Here in the United States, the new “major labels,” so to speak, are Pentatone, Çedille, Bridge and Albany, which used to be considered “also-rans” in the business. In England they are Chandos and Hyperion, in Italy Dynamic, in Spain IBS Classical, in Sweden Bis and Alpha, in Poland Dux and in Germany and Austria CPO, Gramola and Hänssler Klassik. And of course, Naxos International has slowly but surely become a major player in the industry despite their track record of discovering major talents in the industry and then letting them go to one of the bigger labels once they become stars.

This diversity has opened the doors for many labels even smaller than these to make a major impact on the classical market, including the “boutique labels” Centaur and Parma/Navona, and some of their product is very good indeed. But—and this is where the problems emerge—with this explosion of issued recordings there are problems, and the No. 1 headache for me is their insistence on cluttering up the new release catalog with new versions of standard repertoire that’s already been recorded dozens of times previously and often in classic performances that the “new kids on the block” can’t even begin to compete with. Just in the past three months, I can’t even tell you how many new recording of tired old music I see in the Naxos New Release catalog, buckets of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, blah blah blah blah blah, and when a new performer of the old stuff does look interesting to me and I check them out, nine out of ten have nothing new to say about this music. Add to that the new operatic and lieder recordings featuring young singers, many of whom have serious vocal defects, all being pushed by their agents. I’ve reviewed some of these recordings just to have something to write about, even when I complain about the musical approach or the performance problems, but no more. My life now, at age 71, has become too short for me to waste my time writing about a recording that I’m going to end up panning in one way or another.

In addition to all this, there is now also a problem with a lot of “new music.” Much of it falls into one of three categories:

  • Slow, maudlin, “atmospheric” pieces that just plain depress me…though I know that, for reasons I can’t explain, this style is immensely popular with Millennials;
  • Fast, edgy music that sounds like an electrical short, broken glass, or somebody trying to file the metal bars protecting my windows so they can break into my house; or
  • Music that has pretensions of being new and different, but doesn’t actually go anywhere.

None of this music is going to be reviewed by me in the future. I haven’t done much of it, mind you, but even a little of it on my blog is too much for me.

And the sad thing is, I really do have to check every composer I don’t know out so that I can make an informed judgment on their music. If I don’t, I would have missed several interesting composers of the present or somewhat recent past (mid-to-late 20th century) who I now place very high on my list, and this takes time. (Oh, by the way, I’m also not interested in Politically Correct musical “heroes” whose music is written to formula and basically uninteresting, such as Astor Piazzola and Florence B. Price. Their music is well crafted but not individual or really interesting; they say absolutely nothing to me other than a pleasant time’s entertainment, and I have no desire to be “entertained” by classical music.)

Needless to say, the same thing goes for jazz. There seems to be an endless supply of wussy “jazz” singers who perform “from the heart” but don’t have a shred of jazz in them, and here, too, I often get overwhelmed with simpering, slow music that sounds like George Winston him?), edgy, electronic crap, often with a rock beat, or “avant-garde” music that is more noise than music, and of course the ubiquitous “traditional” jazz performers. Only a very few of them, like Stephanie Trick and her husband Paolo Alderighi, are innovative or interesting to an inquisitive mind. Most of the others may indeed make a good living from playing in cocktail lounges or restaurants (provided that they have their Covid-19 “vaccine”), but I don’t want to review them any more.

So this is my new policy: less but higher quality reviews. Which means that you probably won’t be coming here as often as you have been, but when you do make the trip it will be worth your while.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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2 thoughts on “My New Policy: Less, But Better, Reviews

  1. Tim Machold says:

    Hi Lynne,
    I read your forum often and though not much of classical fan find your insights very informative in the few jazz reviews that you do. Further, you hit the nail on the head on the issues with repetitive players in jazz and lounge singers. You do tend to focus on historically and compositionaly strong among the jazz musicians such as Ellington and those write and play as if they have been classically trained. In my view this perspective is hampering your extreme musical insight and knowledge even if it is where you are coming from. Reading what I just read the classical music business has be become formulaic and maybe in doesn’t sit right with you and maybe, just maybe, you have gone along with it. That is a long winded way of saying sounds you are burned out on doing things the same way. And basically, you said that. But will you change your MO or just funnel it down to writing about the good stuff.

    Have tried a high resolution streaming service that carries all genres such as Qobuz. Have you tried Roon. Try the discovery options there for classical and jazz and write about it. Pick an era, say one of Jazz’ golden ages 1955-62 and tell us which albums are must have and why. Write about the newer albums and musicians that you keep coming back to or see as benchmarks to judge others, but in an overview not a review. Just some off the cuff ideas and I’m sure you have many more and better ones.

    As a 67yo guy out in left field that doesn’t know shit about classical and has no musical training or talent I apologise for what I just wrote. But I sure like this forum and think I just read about burn out or frustration anyway and so real change is required. I will remain a loyal fan no matter how things evolve because it’s that good. Thanks for being here.

    Tim

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    • Dear Tim: Thank you for your insights. Although I admit that I really love jazz that is in part based on classical form, I certainly don’t insist on it when reviewing a new jazz CD. I’ve written many reviews of recordings and profiles of jazz musicians who don’t consciously use classical form, but even in jazz I want to hear music that is coherent, that has a shape and form and goes somewhere. By and large, I’ve never been drawn to unstructured jam sessions for that reason: the musicians don’t actually listen to one another, thus their solos do not complement one another and there is no continuity in the shape or form of the music. And interestingly, many of the best musicians who seemed to thrive in a jam session environment, i.e. Frankie Newton, Charlie Parker, even an old-timer like Pee Wee Russell who continually updated his style, actually enjoyed playing in groups where the various soloists listened to each other and created a whole rather than just playing exciting but unstructured solos. (At the time of his death, Parker had just been accepted as a pupil of composer Stefan Wolpe…who knows what might have come of that association?) I’ve always taken the attitude that great music is great music; there were classical musicians who improvised, too, but once they worked their “improvisation” out it became a part of the composition because it FIT. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the Venuti-Lang All Star Orchestra’s 1931 recording of “Someday, Sweetheart.” None of those musicians were consciously trying to be “classical,” but from Benny Goodman’s out-of-tempo clarinet introduction to the last bar of the rideout, the entire recording is one long, continuous, evolving improvisation with a nice shift in the middle when Lang suddenly changes the rhythm before Goodman’s solo. And this was a small-band performance: one each trumpet, trombone and clarinet, violin, guitar, bass and drums. I think my taste was formed very early in life since I grew up listening to jazz that had form and structure; I just kind of absorbed it without consciously trying to analyze it at the time.

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