I have to admit it, I love when my DownBeat colleagues John Corbett and John McDonough stake out territory at extreme opposite ends of opinion on a particular recording. In the December issue's "Hot Box" feature, Corbett gives Evan Parker's 1970 recording The Topography Of The Lungs—which was just released for the first time on CD—the full five stars, while McDonough allots it a mere one star. While Corbett sees the recording as "one of the best five or so examples of its kind," McDonough writes that it's "a worthless stunt."
Now, it's not that I view music criticism as a bloodsport, or that I favour one John over the other (in fact, I know Corbett only slightly from a couple of encounters and McDonough only from a couple of email correspondences), but the difference of intelligent, informed opinion over art is one of the things that attracted me to the craft more than 30 years ago, when I first submitted reviews to my university newspaper. The fact that two people with roughly equal measures of listening experience can hear something so differently, can position a recording so radically differently within the context of recorded music, is what makes criticism such a vital component of the art world.
Before I saw Corbett and McDonough's divergent takes on the Parker CD, I was thinking of this in the context of the 2006 top 10 lists I've been collecting from Jazz Journalists Association members for posting on our website. I haven't done the math yet to determine overall rankings, but it's clear that Kenny Garrett's Beyond The Wall is going to rank fairly high since it's on a number of critics's lists. Not all, mind; it's not a recording that grabbed my ear, for example, so I was surprised to see it land on so many of my colleagues's lists. But now I'm intrigued to go back and try to hear what fellow critics like Bill Milkowski, Ollie Bivins and Geoffrey Himes are hearing.
And just to make things even more intriguing: in DownBeat, Corbett gave the Garrett CD three stars, McDonough, two-and-a-half.