This Modern World – Stan Kenton

Artist: Stan Kenton

Year: 1953

Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz

Grade: A

I know, I know: “I’ve always found [Kenton’s] work to be somewhat cold and distant.” Well, here is Stan Kenton’s coldest and most emotionally distant album ever, yet it remains one of his best. How so?

This Modern World is a collection of holdovers from the City of Glass sessions, part of Kenton’s collaboration with composer Robert Graettinger. Yet whereas the “City of Glass” suite was caught — trapped, even — somewhere between classical, jazz and the avant-garde, This Modern World goes full bore into the amalgamation, pulling no punches. This overabundance of atonality is wholly welcome; Kenton’s deepest dive headlong into experimentation.

Because City of Glass — all whirring strings and cyclone swing — felt unified only by the song titles that gave the suite its name, the piece suffered as a whole: modernism for modernism’s sake. This Modern World, on the other hand, has a more consistent and coherent philosophy despite its increased avant-garde inclinations: modernism’s effects on music itself. “A Horn,” for example, doesn’t do what a horn normally would, while “Some Saxophones” transform themselves into a droning minimalist symphony.

Yes, the music is cold and distant, but for once that is the entire point. Kenton has always been a Cubist painter using bright Impressionist colors; here, he fully embraces cynical abstraction. And the music becomes warmer as a result. Imagine that.

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