Freaks are those of us that harmlessly indulge our interests to the point of compulsion or obsession. When it comes to music, the most interesting people that I have met have been those that exuberantly talk about music almost to the point of proselytizing. As they talk about either their collections or their discoveries or a recent concert or a new release or a particular instrument, they invite us to share in their enthusiasm and in the process they turn us on to all kinds of great music that we may have been completely unaware of. While many of these people can be found on blogs, or in chat rooms, on mailing lists and in forums, a select few have managed to turn their obsessions into a career. Luckily for us John Corbett is that kind of freak.
When it comes to the outer limits of jazz and the realms of creative music and free improvisation, Corbett writes with unmatched exuberance and passion supported by his deep and wide knowledge of the music. In “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium” John Corbett explores the mindset of record collecting and the rising popularity of vinyl records. He combines bits of memoir and criticism to explain what he and other collectors find so special about vinyl. The book contains seven new essays and the entire twelve years of the “Vinyl Freak” column that Corbett wrote for DownBeat magazine. Each “Vinyl Freak” column consisted of a one page essay/review of a rare primarily jazz record and are reprinted in their entirety, plus updated notes on reissue status. What was really interesting about the “Vinyl Freak” columns were the tangents that Corbett might take in describing the record, its music, the musicians, cover, style, etc. This would often reveal interesting external connections between the music, its makers and its history, and in the process expose us to related albums and musicians. Among the new essays is a chapter of vignettes on one hundred thirteen of his favorite rare free improvisation and creative music recordings. There is also one riveting essay that focuses on the tale of his uncovering of a cache of extremely rare Sun Ra items.
While many will view this book as just being about Corbett’s obsessive and unique view of record collecting and the recent vinyl resurgence, and that is definitely in this book, it’s really about how the format changes of recorded music impacts music history. There is so much great music that seems to have disappeared due to format changes. In writing about all of these rare records Corbett uncovers a lot of great and potentially forgotten music. John Corbett reminds us that as formats change we can lose great music. Think of the many records that you had in your vinyl collection that have yet to make it to CD or a digital download format. Well, consider that this has happened throughout the history of recorded music, as recordings moved from tapes and wires and cylinders and shellac to various forms, speeds and sizes of vinyl and then to various digital formats. Bottom line, we may have lost a lot of great music along the way and we would have lost even more great music, if it weren’t for collectors who turned their passion into the curating and production of reissues of old recordings in new formats. John Corbett has stepped up here as well with the many reissues he has been busy producing for his Corbett vs Dempsey label.
Clearly John Corbett is a vinyl freak. Who else would include a rare unreleased limited edition Sun Ra flex-disc in his latest book? He may truly love the vinyl medium but deep down he loves the music even more. Corbett really is an “equal opportunity ear filler” and is willing to acquire the music he really enjoys in any format. With “Vinyl Freak: Love Letters to a Dying Medium” John Corbett invites us to join him in the pleasure of discovering new sounds to indulge our ears. So what are you waiting for? You’ve been invited. Highly Recommended!
Chris De Chiara
For more information: https://www.dukeupress.edu/vinyl-freak
Additional reviews of John Corbett’s books on AMN: