Poetry Jazz: N-Side, Barry Wallenstein & Kirpal Gordon
These marriages of words and music are neither song, nor opera with recitative, but rather like the declamatory poetry jams that arose with the Beat Era in the '50s. Because these poet/performers know that we learn from oral history, their albums have dedications: N-Side's to drummer "Smiley" Winters, Wallenstein's to pianist John Hicks with sly nods to Mezz Mezzrow and Gordon's to the entire pantheon of bebop gods and gone gurus.
N-Side (Bay Area poet Norman Woods) has forged a harrowing Jazz Opera of new and pre-recorded music annealed to his raw, live poetry and pre-recorded interview with Winters. The new music (Ed Kelly's overdubbed keyboards) counterpoints and supports a studio '70s date (dedicatee Winters with a cast of avant-garde stalwarts like altoist Sonny Simmons and trumpeter Barbara Donald). Woods' poetry runs raw, agonized, taut, literal: in his bright, impassioned high baritone he limns bitter commentary over snippets of (his own?) interview with spiritual mentor Winters' calming gravelly bass. As Winters gently expounds life anecdotes and philosophy of art, N-Side reacts to this hero's mandate, processes it and preaches it from a polemic pulpit as biblical exegesis. Busy as it sounds, the complex threads weave a cohesive, imaginative fabric of devotion, history and emerging self-knowledge. Woods is seething with righteous edgy argument, with an axe-grinding urgency to be understood, to laud Smiley, to find justice in a brutal, racist world. And he's convincingwe reach out to him, try to see life from his side, walk in his shoes.
Barry Wallenstein, a seasoned veteran, exhibits an actor's measured pacing throughout Euphoria Ripens, this most traditionally 'jam-like' set with a regular crew including French hornist Vincent Chancey, altoist Daniel Carter and bassist Bob Cunningham. His grainy, savvy rasp suavely summons the louche majesty of Mezz Mezzrow and other jazz-era shades without raising the volume. In a ballad trilogy, he's grainily sensuous in duo with guitarist Steve Carlin, then conversational with Adam Birnbaum's ringing piano, as he quietly exhorts smelling dewy roses and listening to country crickets over crunching numbers. His loose logic and slippery characters don't tell us where we are or who we're with (is Tony a Kansas City bartender?) but his shape-shifting conveys both the street ease and ominous desperation of the post-Depression jazz idiom.
Conversely, on Speak-Spake-Spoke, Kirpal Gordon excels at evoking place and personality: precise of word and rhyme and ready of wit, his spinning continuum suggests jazz' immediacy (timewarp quips, era flips) and transcendency (conjuring Mecca and Maya, simmering the gods' jambalaya). Gordon's pairing poems with pearls of jazzswing (Dorsey's "Song Of India"), bop ("I Got Rhythm" zested by James Zollar's trumpet fours with Warren Smith's drums), trad, Rahsaanmakes savvy listeners work twice as hard to catch the double-intensity drift, but it's so much fun and speedy a ride, nobody minds. Gordon's erudition in world lit (licks from Eliot, Yeats and The Upanishads flit by like Dexter Gordon's quotes) add further dimensions to his verbal inventions. "In The Key of Sea" Gordon's gently susurrant voice sails in counterpoint with Claire Daly's coolly adenoidal baritone on "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"punchline at the end. In "All Related" (backed with "Afro-Blue") free- associative hip-hoppy internal rhymes scheme to bewitch us listeners with electric eclecticism potshotting at man's universality and eternity: clave, Kalahari, we're all compadrestambien tu madre. Gordon's poetry aligns closely to jazz music: ready on the changes but very much in the moment, improvisingat poetic peak he's internally rhyming, eternally scheming, keeping this hot band dancing on the point of Cleopatra's needle.
Tracks and Personnel
Jazz Opera: a poetic tribute to drummer extraordinaire William "Smiley" Winters
Tracks: Intro/Selfish; Vanguard five; In time; The art of traveling black ( Jazz opera version); I don't know why?; Voices (from a disinherited wasteland); Vanguard dreams; Jazz Opera.
Tracks: Silly Matters/Spaceman; Well Being; Tony Asks...Tony Cleans the Stove...Tony at the Table...Tony's Preferences; Euphoria Ripens; Sounds about the Monastery/Mortality; In the Parlance of Mezz/Under the Spell of Muggles; Little Ditty; The Man Upstairs; That Was Then; Now is Paid For; For John Hicks; Alt. take of In the Parlancce of Mezz.
Personnel: Barry Wallenstein: vocals; Adam Birnbaum: piano; Steve Carlin: guitar; Daniel Carter: saxophone, clarinet, trumpet; Vincent Chancey: French horn; Bob Cunninngham: bass.
Personnel: Claire Daly: baritone sax, flute; Kirpal Gordon: spoken word, spirit rattle; Dave Hofstra: bass, tuba; Warren I. Smith: drums; Eli Yamin: piano; Arthur Baron: trombone, didgeridoo; Jordan Jones: spoken word, chorus; Tim Price: tenor sax; Leslie Stalhut: chorus; James Zollar: trumpet.