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Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz by Howard Mandel

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Author Howard Mandel assumes many roles here-elucidating critic and devoted fan, knowledgeable listener and Boswellian acolyte, evangelist and champion of the avant-garde-all taken on with infectious enthusiasm. Of Miles Davis’ last years: “He arrived at much more transporting music live in concert and on his ’80s studio albums than he did dull dead ends.” Ornette Coleman “always leaves me feeling upbeat, healed and relieved.” Of Cecil Taylor’s music: “I know for sure there’s more to it, much more, than I’ve yet come close to absorbing.”

Of course, much of what is said or implied in those three quotes clashes with conventional critical wisdom. But the triumph of-and pleasure in reading-this book is how ably Mandel makes his case for the musical importance of his three subjects while also conveying his profound appreciation. Yet this is no straight critical study, even though Mandel occasionally employs the jargon of the aesthetic/arts scholar, i.e., “One of [Miles’] most telling modes of signification involved his appropriations of popisms and repurposing of them to his own specifications.”

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