Exquisitely mean

Over at Crooked Timber there’s a fine foodfight going on in the comments to a posting on mean reviews. The bit that caught my eye was quoted from a Philip Larkin hatchet job on jazz modernists:

For sheer mean-spirited, grossly unfair (not to say misguided) but nevertheless well-written and funny attacks on worthy targets, you can’t beat Philip Larkin’s criticism of modernist Jazz, especially his stuff on John Coltrane and Miles Davis. He thought Coltrane was “possessed continually by an almost Scandinavian unloveliness.” For example, here he is reviewing A Love Supreme:

It is of course absurd to suggest he can’t play his instrument: the rapidity of his fingering alone dispels that notion. It would be juster to question whether he knows what to do with it now that he can play it. His solos seem to me to bear the same relation to proper jazz solos as those drawings of running dogs, showing their legs in all positions so that they appear to have about fifty of them, have to real drawings. Once, they are amusing and even instructive. But the whole point of drawing is choosing the right line, not drawing fifty alternatives. Again, Coltrane’s choice and treatment of themes is hypnotic, repetitive, monotonous: he will rock backwards and forwards between two chords for five minutes, or pull a tune to pieces like someone subtracting petals from a flower. Apart from the periodic lashing of himself into a frenzy, it is hard to attach any particular emotional importance to his work.

And on Miles Davis:

He had several manners: the dead muzzled slow stuff, the sour yelping fast stuff, and the sonorous theatrical arranged stuff, and I disliked them all.

But it’s really worthwhile to look through the argybargy in the comments…