Since the end of 2008, and thanks to the new RatingSystem, it's possible to give a rating to releases, artists, labels and tracks.
This document would like to propose some guidance about a suggested use of the RatingSystem as to obtain meaningful information from what is usually considered as a highly suggestive question.
While the ideas here are not specific to jazz and may very well be used in a different context, the whole proposition focuses on some of the specifics of jazz (albums are printed several times in several different editions/forms, and there exists both a lot of budget compilations and anthology sets).
Why rate at all?
Given the amount of material available for most jazz artists (due to the proliferation of re-editions and compilations), it's sometimes difficult to make a decision - even for the same recorded material - without digging into a full discographic study.
Also, artists with a long career often have weaker moments, or periods more interesting or easier to start with.
These savvy with the artists in question may then provide valuable insight helping people to pick the right stuff in the right edition.
What is a useless rating?
The main problem with rating is that it's often understood as a pure expression of entirely subjective feelings: "Eyy, I don't know this stuff but it sure sounds bad" or "Yeah, that sure rocks, it's good!". That kind of rating is probably fun and interesting to close relatives of you who can triage and decypher what that means based on some intimate knowledge :-) but it's entirely useless to strangers.
Theoretically, that "randomness" side-effect of subjective rating is supposed to be alleviated by the number of people actually rating the stuff, as to obtain a "medium" feeling. Unfortunately, it's unlikely that this "average" rating will reflect anything but sales trend...
When should I rate then?
Possibly when you have an intimate knowledge about both the artist's entire career and the history of the artist's genre. Preferably, you shouldn't have strong "feelings" for or against the artist, as to keep your head straight :-)
A suggestion to make rating useful and consistent
Obviously, rating always keep some subjective part - that's the nature of the beast. Still, trying to formalize how we rate can be helpful in making things less random.
Hence, rating of a release may be based on the following aspects, separated into families:
- edition dependent:
- quality of the discographical information (are there sessions details? list of sidemen? complete production credits? release history? liner notes?)
- quality of the sound (both original production and any subsequent restoration work)
- quality of the packaging
- how does the edition compare with other editions?
- relative to the artist
- is the release an important one in the artist career, according to the artist? to critics? to sidemen who participated in it?
- how does it compare with/relate to other releases from the artist?
And may also take into account:
- relative to the genre
- how was the release received/considered by other (similar) musicians?
- was the release influential in the genre after being issued?
- relative to music in general
- is the release somehow revolutionary?
- did the release founded a new genre, or a new way to play music?
Suggestion for rating an artist original album:
- 5 stars means the album is absolutely remarkable, and:
- is considered one of the artist's best releases
- has an important place in the genre, and is considered by fellow musicians/critics as either influential, an important achievement, or simply a true success
- anyone with curiosity for the artist/genre may pick these as a sure shot
- 4 stars means the album is a quite good one:
- among the artist discography
- among the genre
- these who already appreciate the artist and are reasonably familiar with the genre can pick this without disappointment
- 3 stars means the album is average production for the artist, and a decent pick for the genre
- a decent pick for fans - probably not pertinent for casual listeners and newcomers
- 2 stars means the album is a weak spot in the artist production, and easily forgettable when compared to the overall quality of the genre
- for die hard fans only
- 1 star means a disaster and something that should be avoided
- for completists only
These ratings may then be modulated:
- a perfect packaging, discographical information, and engineer work means +0
- cheap packaging, or discographical information somehow lacking, or imperfect sound means -1
- disastrous object, with no info at all, or horrible sound means -2
And/or modulated against other editions of the same release:
- the best edition gets +0
- other editions (admitting they are not as good - lesser info, missing tracks, worth sound, scrambled track order) gets -1, or -2
Compilations are a bit different.
- 5 stars means the given set is the definitive edition for the material (generally for an anthology set exhaustively covering some period/topic), that the sound is the best available, and both the packaging and discographical documentation are remarkable
- completists and serious amateurs should pick this one with confidence to build themselves the definitive collection
- 4 stars means the set lacks one of the qualities above: either it's missing some essential cuts from the period it's supposed to cover while another concurrent set doesn't (if it is a "complete" edition), either it presents a small defect of some sort (cheap packaging for example, or lacking a bit on discographical data), while still being an fairly good choice
- exigent listeners who don't aim at exhaustive collections may confidently pick these for a good reference
- 3 stars means the set presents a decent overview for the newcomer, at a reasonable price, and has been assembled with care enough - while definitely not being good enough for completists and serious amateurs
- newcomers and people looking for a glimpse at the artist may pick one of these for a good "overview"
- 2 stars means the set, while still being (relatively) assembled with care, seriously lacks interest - "tasteless sampler", "best-of" without much qualities in the choice of cuts
- people who are cheap and want to give cheap presents to cheap friends (still with some meaning in it :-) ) may pick these
- 1 star means the set is total crap without infos about the cuts, typos in titles and wrong attributions, possibly bad sound, and no rhyme in the choice of the cuts etc
- everybody should avoid these
Wait! This is still very subjective! I can argue </whatever>
This proposal is not meant to palliate congenital lack of taste or intelligence :-) It's meant to harmonize the way we match numbers against appreciations.