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STIR IT UP by Gene Santoro


Musical Stews from Roots to Jazz

by Gene Santoro

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-509869-2
Publisher: Oxford Univ.

An impressive variety of music is surveyed—rock, jazz, reggae, Afropop, Brazilian Tropicalia—in these reviews and interviews reprinted from the Nation, the Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere. The collection starts, pointedly, with a Paul Simon interview about his collaborations with South African musicians on the controversial Graceland album. This story raises hopes for big topics from the essays to come: synthesis of international styles, cultural appropriation, politics, and music. But Santoro (Dancing in Your Head: Jazz, Blues, Rock, and Beyond, not reviewed) delivers a more diffuse collection. The pieces are about albums, or musicians, or musical ideas explored with particular musicians as examples—or all of the above. Sting discusses how ``there aren't any original ideas'' and where creativity does come from. The Bob Marley chapter serves as a short, informative history of reggae music, featuring Bob Marley. In the section on jazz bassist Tim Drummond, Santoro is content, for the most part, to let this outspoken man hold court. The jazz greats are perhaps best covered: John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, and others. Perhaps the influences and heirs-apparent are clearer in jazz. Or maybe jazz musicians just have the best stories to tell—Mingus, for instance, checks into Bellevue for a rest, ``as if it were a resort hotel,'' and then has trouble getting out. Sometimes Santoro's hip, smart style threatens to distract. Trail-blazing saxophonist John Zorn's music, for instance, contains ``pieces of a subatomic jigsaw puzzle whose Heisenbergian reality is connected by dots in the mind of the observer.'' Intelligent coverage of major artists—Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, and David Byrne are all included—will appeal to many readers. But the overarching theme of cross-cultural pollination remains merely a rough reference point for the volume—a title pasted across a disparate, if thoughtful collection of writings.