After a particularly compelling weekend at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival I could not help but ponder what complexity is all about. On Friday I watched Ornette Coleman in what was one of most moving artistic performances I have ever experienced. This was followed on Sunday by a solo piano performance by Cecil Taylor, whose music is so complex and creative it refuses to be captured by any genre, including jazz. The thing that defines the music of artists like Coleman and Taylor is that it does not request your attention, but demands it. If you don’t focus your attention on their music you will miss the challenging beauty and energy it processes and its elegance becomes cacophony. The contrast to this is music like Led Zeppelin with big clear rhythms impossible for the deadest ear to miss. Such music requires little of the listener except to dance, not that there’s anything wrong with that. As seductive as those 95 point Led Zeppelin wines may be, true complexity can only be found in wines that demand your attention to fully appreciate them. Obvious wines don’t make you dig deeper to understand them. The best wines draw you in slowly, sip-by-sip and glass-by-glass until they finally reveal every aspect of their complexity to you. Eventually they demand your attention.
Having no time after work to grab a bite before the Ornette Coleman concert, I went out to eat afterwards and my over-stimulated brain received another jolt from the excellent Marsannay, Les Saint Jacques, Domaine de Beauclair, 2002 I had with dinner. The dramatic increases in the knowledge of winemaking and viticulture have transformed Burgundy and appellations like Marsannay ( related posts here and here). Once a place name to be ignored, growers in places like Marsannay are often producing better wines than their more famous neighbors. This is a wonderful pinot noir with a regal richness laced across a firm backbone and bright acidity. What was most exciting about this wine was how it grew and expanded with each sip eventually becoming a wine that demanded your attention. That’s what defines complexity.