A story: On Saturday I was lucky to be able to stay with a relation of a friend whilst down for London Jazz Festival. We both went to the Threadgill. He said that he found bits of it difficult to understand... but that he very much enjoyed it, and that listening to new things took effort. I remember Oe Fischer saying that he could see all these people [me, Olie Brice, Alexander Hawkins, Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi, Jean Toussaint, Mark Holub...] grooving in our seats. But it wasn't just the musicians. A young lady a few seats down looked like she'd gone through a spiritual experience.
Later that night I had the misfortune to be caught short while walking through Hoxton to St Pancras at 3a.m. [I stayed up all night]. I ended up at this pub and banged on the door to use the facilities. They let me in, but they had a condition: I had to give them a song. So I went to the loo, and when I got back [after washing my hands, of course] I unpacked and set-up. I then gave them a short improv set. No tune, no "swing", just improvised music. And they applauded. They didn't know what I'd played; but they just listened to it and took it on. I communicated with them and they listened.
So, in two days I got two clear examples of people listening to "challenging" music and just enjoying it... with no baggage. One was a concert hall of people, the other an East End pub. But still: listening with no baggage. No chord-scale theory baggage; No "all jazz has to be happy/serious" baggage. Just listening.
Now: why can't some musicians and journalists get this through their heads? Creative music can be and is listened to. In all sorts of ways. It's the abject narrow-mindedness of some of these people I see writing nonsense in the jazz sphere that is causing a barrier to others; there seems to be a prevalence of bad creative music journalism on the Internet and particularly social media. It's woeful. Do music schools teach listening/music appreciation any more? In fact, should those who play improvised music worry about pleasing "jazz critics" anyway, if people with no baggage will accept the music better? And will certain "jazz musicians" get it into their heads that the music did not stop at playing jazz standards with a few originals?
That said, John Fordham nailed it on the Threadgill concert: "Threadgill's highly personal music might be complex, but cerebral or remote it isn't." As did Jon Turney. Both have the advantage of talking about the music and not themselves. Jazz Journal's review hit it too.
None of them take the audience response which was very warm to the music. So reading this from the Arts Desk and then this makes me believe that we should have barriers on who can and cannot use the Internet to disseminate information.
The Arts Desk review mentions Henry Threadgill's clothes—back to the Eighties, anyone?—and implies that no encore was asked for [which was definitely not the case]; but the Ring Modulator review is more about the musical abilities of the writer than the music itself.
The reason Threadgill was on stage—and why we were not there with him—was that Threadgill has created something truly unique. And the passion from the stage, from Zooid, was palpable. Even when listening, Threadgill was making music. I expect a review on new/creative music from someone who's been writing for several years to know about the importance of listening AS music. I do not expect a reviewer to understand everything about the music, but to denigrate someone's music because you don't get it is execrable, especially if you've been writing for years. I also expect a review to say how the audience felt.
Those two reviews bear no relation to what I saw in the room that night. Maybe they should stick to writing about "contemporary, accessible jazz" so everyone else can experience music to the full. Putting those words up there gives these people the mantle of an expert... but they clearly cannot read a room.
By the way, The Howl At The Moon was a lovely real ale pub. For my trouble I got a fine porter and an exquisite stout.