I am partial to contemporary Scandinavian jazz and, whenever I get the chance, will encourage others to listen to it. I have learnt that it’s not a good idea to trap someone in a chair and play them your choice of CD but it is sometimes possible to get a positive response from a little fortuitously-timed background music. I was building on one such success when I persuaded a trio of friends to come with me to a live gig by a Norwegian trumpeter. I was sure they would love the cool, lingering tones, the finely judged chordal progressions and the soaring harmony of the melodies that distinguish his style.
Unfortunately the artist had undergone a musical transformation since I had last heard him play and his new style was quite different. Improvisational, raw and un-melodic, it was a good example of what I call ‘difficult’ jazz: music which only the most knowledgeable and devoted aficionado would appreciate. To our ears the random structure of the compositions was harsh and generally irritating – and we couldn’t even talk through it because it was so loud. It was a disappointing experience for us all and I suspect that any future recommendations of mine will be treated with suspicion. These days I am often to be found solo at jazz gigs, picking my way through its diversity, with only my own disappointments to deal with.
I am also partial to French red wine which, like jazz, comes in many varieties and repays commitment and a degree of familiarity. And again, like jazz, it can be unpredictable in company. Too often a supposedly grand bottle, introduced ceremoniously at the dinner table, has turned out to contain nothing like the nectar promised by its reputation. Too often have I had to make apologies along the lines of “it must be past its best!”
Some of you may have been lucky in your formative years; perhaps you shared that first bottle of well-cellared, fine-vintage claret in convivial company when you were just old enough to appreciate it; or you may have heard Miles Davies’ ‘Kind of Blue’ when you were at the prime impressionable age. In either case you would need no further encouragement to delve deeper. But, should you come to these things later in life, you will have to clear away a lot of brushwood and ‘kiss a lot of frogs’ before you find the hidden treasure. I am still thrashing through the undergrowth and kissing frogs.
Just lately we invited some old friends around for Sunday lunch. With the food all prepared and the table laid, I turned my attention to the remaining tasks of choosing some background music and selecting a few bottles of red wine – forgetting all I had previously learned about making recommendations to others. I rummaged through hundreds of CDs without coming to any firm conclusion and studied the labels on a dozen bottles of red wine several times over. I had resorted to opening and sampling them by the time our guests were at the door.
But I managed to come up with a Plan B: I deftly tuned-in to a jazz radio station on the internet which absolved me of all responsibility for the playlist. As for the wine, I served what our generous guests had brought, leaving them to take the praise (or otherwise) for its excellence. The lunch party swung along nicely and, for several days afterwards, I busied myself with some solo research - drinking up the opened bottles while working through some dusty old CDs.