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Thread: AAJ Review: Phillip Johnston Returns, Diggin' Bones / The Adventures of Prince Achmed

  1. #1

    AAJ Review: Phillip Johnston Returns, Diggin' Bones / The Adventures of Prince Achmed

    My review of Microscopic Septet/Fast 'n' Bulbous saxophonist/composer Phillip Johnston's two late 2018 releases - the hard-blowing Diggin' Bones, with The Coolerators, and his soundtrack to the first feature length animated film, 1926's The Adventures of Prince Achmed - today at All About Jazz.

    The opening section of this lengthy examination uses some thoughts about the current state of the music industry (most of which folks here might have read from me in some recent threads) to set up how Johnston has continued to survive despite its undeniable challenges. So please follow the link to the full article for proper, detailed and extensive info about Johnston and his two new recordings.

    This is my first article of the New Year, and whether or not you agree with my feelings about the music business, I hope you'll find something to appeal in Johnston's music - which isn't directly related to progressive rock, but nevertheless does possess some trace elements from areas to which some PE'ers will be familiar...and attracted.

    So here we go...


    The consequences of change in the music industry have been predicted for some time now but, with far too many blinkered deniers, it's had to begin approaching critical mass before being recognized for what it is: the commoditization and devaluation of music that has led to increasing challenges for musicians looking to maintain any kind of reasonable living. Sure, there are the bigger names who continue to thrive, and it's easy to point to the absurd volume of music being released each and every week as proof that the very existence of music and those who make it are in no way being threatened. Still, just talk to most musicians and you'll hear that recordings that once provided a reasonable component of their income are now little more than business cards, and motivators, at best, to get audiences to attend live performances.

    But it's far worse than that. The cost of touring is now so expensive that many artists struggle to maintain their income from even that source. Labels are either largely closing down, like Abstract Logix, or going on general hiatus and releasing a mere fraction of what they once did, like the adventurous and decades-old Cuneiform Records. Online shops are closing their virtual doors, like ReR USA. Streaming services like Spotify offer budget-friendly, "all you can eat" musical buffets that are a boon for the consumer but result in "compensation" to most artists that is a tiny fraction of what they used to get for album sales (whether hard or soft media). Worse, people who post not just free songs but entire albums without permission on social media platforms like Facebook and "great on paper but not so good in reality" sites like YouTube have further eaten, very significantly, into how musicians get recompense for their hard work.

    Sure, the cost of pressing a thousand CDs is now so reasonable that almost anyone can release an album. And with DIY home studios and file sharing becoming the norm, the days when bands recorded with experienced engineers and producers--often laying down an album's basic tracks "live off the floor," together in the same room of a proper studio, which also allows them to capture both energy and in-the-moment spontaneity only possible by playing together, is now becoming increasingly less common. And if artists do record in proper studios, the cost of doing so is so exorbitant that the amount of time they can spend in those studios has been severely curtailed.

    Yes, live releases (whether soundboard recordings or proper multitracks) are both cost-effective and, if the group is best experienced in concert, a viable alternative. But the days of recording studios being almost another member of any group, couple with the invaluable contributions of engineers and the objective perspective of a good producer, have become largely a thing of the past.

    The reasons why we have arrived in this spot are complex and barely touched upon here, but there's little doubt that, beginning with the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing in the '90s (most notably Napster) have created generations of music fans either growing up to or no longer believing in the idea that those who make the music they profess to love deserve to actually get paid for it. As ever, technological innovations are a double-edged sword; tremendous in their infinite possibilities... but equally dangerous in their potential for abuse.

    The naysayers' common response to these worsening conditions--tough enough on younger musicians, but brutal on aging ones who must now tour far more frequently each year in order to simply carve out something resembling the livings that they could prior to the new millennium--is that "music will find a way." And, indeed, musicians faced with the harsh reality of their labels reducing their output or shuttering up completely have forced them to find other ways to get their music out... if at all. That a major jazz artist like guitarist Pat Metheny has not released a studio album since 2014, yet now has a full five albums recorded but, thanks to the current landscape, no plans to actually release them speaks volumes.

    Still, the "music will find a way" adage isn't completely without merit, especially for middle tier musicians. Many have enough of a following to justify finding another small label interested in releasing their work (or starting their own), without the expectation of selling huge numbers but with the not unreasonable objective of, at the very least, documenting musical progress while, hopefully, recouping the actual cost of making them and, maybe even, reaping a small profit.

    Take Phillip Johnston--he of, amongst many other projects, the 1930s/40s-inspired but utterly modern "little big band" Microscopic Septet and Captain Beefheart tribute group Fast 'n' Bulbous. The American saxophonist, living in Sydney, Australia since 2005 but still spending time, each year, in his decades-long home of New York City and touring in North America, represents the epitome of a musician who survives through diversity.

    Continue reading here...
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
    Freelance writer/photographer

  2. #2
    Member Steve F.'s Avatar
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    Nov 2012
    Fluffy Cloud


    So very happy to see this.
    Steve F.

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    "You run a great label, but sometimes you go out of your way to be a jerk." - Jed Levin

    "The older I get, the more I realize that cynicism is just realism spelled wrong."

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    please add 'imo' wherever you like, to avoid offending those easily offended.


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