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JT’s Editor Introduces the Jan.-Feb. 2012 Issue

All together now: charting the changes in year-end polls

Ambrose Akinmusire
Charles Lloyd, Skopje Jazz Festival, Oct. 2011
Lee Konitz

Before the Internet dismantled the music industry, critics and dedicated listeners loudly scorned the gatekeepers: the tin-eared A&R reps at major labels; the conservative buyers for chain record stores; the reactionary programmers who did their best to make jazz radio a solvent proposition. Now, a lot of what I read and hear is the cognoscenti pining for the old world. Some of this yearning is pure nostalgia, but some of it is serious commentary on how the web’s dissemination of information has affected the way people relate to one another.

“When I grew up, there was a monoculture,” the critic Robert Christgau told the website in 2006. “Everybody listened to the same music on the radio. I miss monoculture. I think it’s good for people to have a shared experience.” Christgau was, not incidentally, the architect and keeper of the Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, the most authoritative and ambitious list of its kind, for over three decades.

Polls, such as Pazz & Jop and those found in this issue, are some of the last bastions of consensus available to music folks. Our writers’ picks are records that all of jazz fandom needs to hear, have its collective mind blown, and then discuss-hopefully in a club or record shop rather than on Facebook.

But to return to the past is, of course, to confront the very same problems that led to the present. The critics’ list brims with old lions and major labels: a testament to the indelible brilliance of players like Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz and Charles Lloyd, and to the impressive ability of companies like Blue Note and ECM to maintain their aesthetic edge and historical reputation. But it might also be proof of how disconcertingly influential infrastructure can be: As newcomers struggle to make their names in the online void, awards go to figures who rose to fame in a world of limited options and maintained their audience, still recording for labels that can afford to effectively work the PR angles.

In that light, the achievements of someone like 29-year-old Blue Note recording artist Ambrose Akinmusire, who was named Best New Artist by the readers and whose second album hit No. 3 in the Critics’ Picks, seem cheapened. Until, of course, you actually hear his music, which provides everything you could ask for in modern jazz. Akinmusire earned his contract by being a monster player and empathetic bandleader and composer, and released a great-sounding, great-looking album on a label whose resources can lift him up. That business model worked in 1961, it works now and it will work in 2061.

Originally Published