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Microgroove: Forays Into Other Music by John Corbett

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John Corbett’s Microgroove: Forays Into Other Music is a sprawling meander through the multi-tiered world of “alternative” musics, encompassing jazz, rock, blues, avant-classical and literary and visual art forms whose materials and methods comment on aspects of musicality. The far-ranging scope of the 53 essays and interviews collected in these nearly 500 pages, dating from 1993 to just last year, reminds us that even within music’s commercially neglected fringes complex gradations of sub-genre exist, separating the hardcore avant-garde devotee from one who thinks they’re down because they own a copy of Space Is the Place.

Corbett is a record producer (his credits include rereleases of works by seminal AACM saxophonist Fred Anderson and Swiss free-jazz duo Voice Crack), co-owner of Chicago’s Corbett vs. Dempsey art gallery and a critic and essayist whose work has appeared in DownBeat, The Wire, the Chicago Reader and numerous other publications. But first and foremost he is a devotee of challenging and outré sounds, and his essays are most compelling when he dives headfirst into his chronicles with a fan’s enthusiasm and verve. Among the standout pieces in this vein are a diary-style breakdown of an early-2000s U.S. tour led by free-jazz saxophonist Peter Brötzmann; “Six Dispatches From the Memory Bank,” in which Corbett draws on deep personal memories of a half-dozen singular performances from “protean, gritty” Chicago-based saxophonist Ken Vandermark; and “Discaholic or Vinyl Freak?,” a lengthy investigation of Corbett’s record-buying habits, conducted by the Thing saxophonist and fellow record hound Mats Gustafsson. These pieces beautifully balance serious musical scholarship and critical analysis with the kind of collar-grabbing, “give-this-a-listen” excitement that draws us all to music in the first place.

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