Mark Grabowski's review of the George Turner Trio's August 20 performance at Michael's Bistro [On the Prowl, "Better on CD," August 29, 2002] underscored several misgivings I have with music criticism today.
Most distressing is Grabowski's lack of musical and historical knowledge about jazz and other improvised musical idioms evidenced by his labeling of the Trio as a "cover band." This is not correct. A cover band seeks to slavishly imitate the core nuances of another, usually wildly popular, version of a song.
If Grabowski had taken the time to do any sort of cursory research on improvised music, he would have realized that there is a long tradition of players improvising on other people's music– especially in organ trios. This music can range from Tin Pan Alley standards to contemporary pop tunes and beyond. John Coltrane, for example, found the song "My Favorite Things" substantive enough to inspire hours of brilliant improvisation for years.
We do not skim lightly over hackneyed "Real Book" standards. On the contrary, George chooses our repertoire with care and respect. He diligently transcribes music from artists like Stevie Wonder and pianist Don Pullen for our performances because we feel this music is uncommon, inspiring and, most importantly, malleable enough to make it our own.
You'd be hard pressed to call our version of Wonder's "Big Brother" a "cover" given George's clever arrangement, not to mention the lack of vocals! When played with passion and intelligence, improvising on someone else's music transforms it into something richer and something completely original. While this doesn't happen all the time, I feel it is something we strive for in every performance on both our own compositions (which we played in abundance but Grabowski failed to comment on or even learn their titles) and on tunes by others.
Also, I must take issue with Grabowski's disparagement of George's guitar tone. To my ears, George's "clean" tone is one of the clearest and deepest around, and allows his lines to sing out without relying on any additional electronics. George's clean playing is his own voice steeped in the jazz guitar tradition and should be considered and critiqued from this perspective.
I hope that for future reviews Grabowski is more informed about the music he is reviewing, and that he listens deeply and earnestly to what is being played rather than focusing on superficial, uninformed notions of what it "should be."