I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with writer, curator, and producer John Corbett for more than three and a half decades now. There are lots of things that I love about John—his generosity, his smarts, his humor—but his unflagging enthusiasm for the things he’s passionate about has always been a huge inspiration. He’s gotten me excited about and turned me on to countless things during our friendship; in fact, early on his enthusiasm for my perverse late-80s fanzine Butt Rag was crucial, giving me a huge boost and a major shot of confidence. Looking back now, I don’t know if I would have followed the path I took without John’s support.
Corbett has just published a terrific new anthology of his writing called Microgroove (Duke University), the long-delayed follow-up to his 1994 book Extended Play, a wide-ranging assortment of interviews and essays that reflected his wonderfully catholic sensibilities and set a standard that’s generally unmet, where music is music and genre’s just a lot of bullshit.
There’s a lot of great stuff in the new book—which went through multiple iterations over the years, scrapped and revisited several times—but in his introduction to a piece called “Twenty-Seven Enthusiasms: A Spontaneous Listening Session,” Corbett expresses a major part of what makes his work so special. “Show-and-tell was always my favorite part of school,” he writes, eventually explaining that “you accumulate things not to own them, but to share them.” It’s what he’s done as a writer, a music presenter, and, in recent years, a gallerist, at Corbett vs. Dempsey. This particular piece, published in the book for the first time, delivers succinct descriptions of 27 records Corbett rips through for an imaginary listener—or the reader of the chapter. Some of the artists he plays I learned about from him over the years—Hampton Grease Band, Shrubs, General Strike, and Black Star and Lucky Star Music Clubs—while others are ones I’m now eager to check out. That’s always the way it is with John, although he’s not one of those people that doesn’t cock an open ear in return. He remains as curious as the day I first met him.
In contrast to Extended Play, the new book cuts down on Corbett’s theoretical writing in favor of extended interviews and profiles. Since improvisation is ultimately what gets him going, jazz artists naturally predominate (Fred Anderson, Steve Lacy, Ken Vandermark, Misha Mengelberg, Carla Bley, and Joe McPhee—who graces the book’s cover), but there are also pieces on Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Koko Taylor, Michael Hurley, and Helmut Lachenmann, among other musicians and composers, along with pieces on visual artists Christopher Wool and Albert Oehlen and writers Nathaniel Mackey and Clark Coolidge—although all of the nonmusicians possess very close connections to music. Several of the book’s strongest pieces were originally published in the Reader.
Tonight Corbett will celebrate the publication of the book with a reading at Constellation starting at 8 PM, an event happening before a concert by the Scandinavian trio the Thing—a group fronted by one of Corbett’s closest friends (and also a zealous record collector), saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, with whom Corbett will converse. A surprise guest is also promised, along with a limited quantity of free barbecue from Lem’s and Barbara Ann’s. Corbett will also make an appearance on Saturday afternoon at 3 PM at Hyde Park’s singular Seminary Co-Op Bookstore, where he’ll read and discuss the book with some live accompaniment from cellist Tomeka Reid.
Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind)
Diego Barber, Tales (Sunnyside)
A Far Cry, Ted Hearne/Andrew Norman; the Law of Mosaics (Crier)
Omer Avital, New Song (Motema/Plus Loin)
Orrin Evans, Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions)