You could tattoo the entire population of Black Rock City with the amount of ink that's been spilled bloviating on the Music Business 2.0: Internet decentralizes distribution, so major record labels see sales fall and consolidate accordingly. But most of the press has focused on mainstream rock and pop. Less discussed is the effect this shift has had on the jazz world, an underground scene if ever there was one, and a genre that has seen already-slim record company support slashed even further.
The Special, the new release from local heroes the Mitch Marcus Quintet, is an interesting case study in the future of the jazz music business. It's a searing document of progressive jazz that is exactly what major labels like Blue Note and Verve should be releasing instead of looking for the next Norah Jones. But the lack of corporate backing may not be such a bad thing. The Special is an independent record, which is exactly how it sounds — rough, uncompromising, and so juiced it practically blasts out of your speakers as soon as you hit play. The group — tenor saxophonist Marcus, alto saxophonist Sylvain Carton, guitarist Mike Abraham, bassist George Ban-Weiss, and drummer Ches Smith — emphasizes texture and open-ended song structures and steamrolls through genre boundaries. There are moments on "Last Mourning" and "G.C." when the ensemble sounds closer to the art rock of King Crimson than to anything in the jazz lexicon. Right from the first solo — a screeching wash of distorted guitar noise and electronics, like Bill Frisell sitting in with Black Flag — notice is served that this is no stock jazz disc, and thankfully that vibe never lets up. While record labels strategize their visions of the future, The Special is the latest alert that individual groups are also piloting new roads in music.