S4 I CHRONICLESnPOP CULTUREnMusic of the Peersnby Gary VasilashnI recently attended a performance bynthe quartet known as Montreux, angroup which, as you may know, recordsnfor Windham Hill. I had first seennMontreux perform a couple years backnduring Detroit’s international jazz festivalnthat’s called, coincidentally enough,nMontreux/Detroit. Those whose sensibilitiesnwere shaped by rock and rollnmay know Montreux-the-city onlynthrough the reference to it in DeepnPurple’s perennial favorite, “Smoke onnthe Water.” The city, however, is morenwidely thought of in terms of jazz.nWindham Hill automatically tunesnour thinking to “New Age” music, anterm — an epithet, really — associatednwith whale sounds, white noise, channeling,nNovocain, organic food, andnother neural depressants. It’s music thatnpeople listen to in order to tune out. Atnthe same time, it’s said to be yuppienmusic, which seems somewhat contradictory,nfor all of the yuppies in mynacquaintance tend to worry aboutnthings like the “GRQ factor,” which,nfor those of you who aren’t familiar withnthe sublingo of the BMW set, meansn”get rich quick.” There’s little time tonbe laid back when you’re on a roll —ncocaine, not quaaludes, is the drug ofnchoice.nWhen I went to the local computernnetwork to buy the tickets for Montreux,nthe young lady behind the counternwas puzzled. She’d never heard ofnthe band. Had I inquired about Anthrax,nthe Junk Monkies, or CommonnAilments of Maturity (and I swear thatnI’m not making these names up), thingsnwould have gone more smoothly.nWhen communications were morenfirmly established, she showed me thatnmy seats could be front row center. As anveteran of concerts by the RollingnStones, The Who, Rod Stewart, Dereknand the Dominoes (yes, that’s Claptonnfor you latecomers), Peter FramptonnVITAL SIGNSn(when he was as big as Michael Jackson,nnot a nobody sideman for an agingnDavid Bowie), and several others, thennotion of getting front row center seatsnstrikes me as a bizarre fluke, a wrinklenin the fabric of the universe. Thosenseats are for the anointed few: girlfriendsnof the band members, recordncompany guests, and ticket winnersnfrom radio stations. The girl behind thencounter was similariy mystified: a groupnshe’d never heard of and choice seatsnavailable without having to camp out inna parking lot waiting for them. It goesnwithout saying that I snatched them.nOne thing that struck me aboutnseeing the members of Montreux upnclose is that they are my contemporaries:nlate 20’s to eariy 30’s. A few weeksnearlier I happened to walk into thenOmni International Hotel in Detroitnwith the band Heart and rode in annelevator with an unguarded Nancy Wilson.nThen, also, it occurred to menthat those people, too, are baby boomers.nHeart can still do relics like “Crazy onnYou” during its performances and getnrave reviews. Montreux goes on stage ofna theater that’s much smaller than anynof the Heart outlets and sees morenempty seats than people. And the musicnit performs, an acoustic jazz with rootsnin the music of Django Reinhardt innthe 1920’s, tends to be derided asnup-to-date Muzak. The differences betweennthe two are a function of ill will,nmarketing, and technology.nSome so-called New Age music isnelevator music — of elevators in opiumndens or places where the harmonicnconvergence has occurred. Listen tonthe electric harp of Andreas Vollenweidernor the piano of Scott Cossu forntoo long, and you’ll be able to sticknneedles into your fingers without reaction.nIt’s movie music to the nth degree.nBut listen to guitarist MichaelnHedges—better yet, listen and seenhim — and you’ll come to realize thatnacoustic guitars can make sounds thatnno microprocessor-based instrumentnwill ever be able to simulate. Hedges’nsonic picking/strumming/fingering/nplucking/rapping/twanging is anythingnnnbut staid. He has been referred to asn”the guitarist from another planet,” andnit isn’t simply because of his dreadlocks.nOne source of the blanket indictmentnagainst New Age music is simplenjealousy. These musicians (even thenboring ones) know how to play theirninstruments. There’s no place to run ornhide where you’re doing a solo that isn’tnobscured by a wah-wah pedal. It’s easynto imagine these musicians prachcing,npracticing, practicing, perfecting theirnskills day after day, while the other kidsnwere out doing something or nothing.nEven those other students who attemptednto be poets fared better, for theyncould be easily derided. (Now they arenpulling down $70K per year as copywriters.)nMembers of the high schoolnbusiness club had a built-in supportngroup. The thespians had to be gutsy,nanyway. But those who worked hard atnplaying musical instruments simplyndidn’t register.nThere were, of course, other musiciansnin high school, those who hadntheir Gibsons and Marshalls and Pearlnsets. They played dances, parties, benefits,neventually bars, and possibly concertnhalls at some point. As theirs was anpopular, public form (i.e., mimickingnwhat was being played on radios), theynreceived greater recognition and acceptance.nBut what is to be made of a bandnlike Montreux? Forget them. Ignorenthem. Identify them with a group ofnpeople that no one wants to be identifiednwith. Mediocrity cannot abidentalent and skill.nThat’s the jealousy part. Anothernaspect is commercial and technical.nIn 1984, compact disc (CD) playersnarrived. They were expensive. At aboutn$800, they were in the domain of thenaudiophiles. Check a newspaper ad forna discount appliance outlet today, andnyou’ll see that some players can benobtained for about a tenth of the originalnprice. In 1987, shipments of CD’snincreased 131 percent over the 1986nlevel. Prices for the discs are goingndown, too, from $15 to $10 and below.nWith these downward trends, the num-n