The beat poets and writers of the '50s idolized the bop players of their day. Jazz served as a template for their compositional methods, performing styles and as soundtrack to their writings. This adulation may not have gone both ways, though, as a quote attributed to Miles Davis indicates: "The Beat Generation ain't nothin' but just more synthetic white shit!" It's been a half century since beat and bop were the hip countercultures, and pianist Frank Carlberg has used that to his advantage to freshly interpret them on In the Land of Art
In a clever turnabout, Carlberg has chosen to base several of his musical compositions on literary pieces by beat stalwarts Jack Kerouac, Robert Creeley, and Kenneth Rexroth. In addition, poet Gertrude Stein, 18th century epigramist Sebastien Chamfort and latter day beat-influenced writers Joel Oppenheimer and Anselm Hollo also contribute. What makes this work so well is that Carlberg and his bandmates have a keen sense for that which Allan Ginsberg termed "spontaneous bop prosody" - the variations in pitch and rhythm that served as the basis for the beat's art.
Christine Correa's exquisitely expressive voice alternates between poet and instrument on these cuts, while saxmen Chris Cheek and Andrew Rathbun showcase wide-ranging instrumental and interpretive abilities. In addition, bassist John Hebert and drummer Michael Sarin are able to set their own paces while keeping up with Carlberg's changing ones. From the opening bop stream of consciousness presentation of Kerouac's classic angry lament "Misery Poesy," to the group recitation of his "Pull My Daisy (Fie My Fum)," the players explore a smorgasbord of moods and styles.
Hollo's "Hills" receives a Kurt Weill treatment and the wittiness of his "Land of Art" is not lost, as Correa clearly enunciates each verse to a marching boppish beat. On other tunes, Correa is capable of contorting and slurring individual syllables into new shapes. This can result in scat, as on Oppenheimer's "The Act," or in the exotic chanting performances of Creeley's "Nowhere One Goes" and Stein's "Asparagus." With its on-the-mark musical, vocal and piano interpretations, adventurous rhythm section explorations and expressive dual sax playing, Carlberg has shown that sh*t can flow uphill In the Land of Art.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Track Listing: 1. Misery Poesy 2. Hills 3. Nowhere One Goes 4. In the Land of Art 5. The Act 6. Better on Your Arse 7. Asparagus 8. This is the Gallows 9. Fat Rate (Be at That) 10. Wit in Fools 11. Pull my Daisy
Personnel: Christine Correa, voice;
Chris Cheek, tenor saxophone;
Frank Carlberg, piano;
John Hebert, bass;
Michael Sarin, drums;
Andrew Rathbun, saxophones.