Vernon Frazer: Song of Baobob
Vernon Frazer is a poet in the tradition of Jack Kerouac. His poems tell stories; they are not merely abstract strings of words. This makes for compelling listening. Frazer's willingness to explore his own frailties, and even make fun of his pedanticism, helps make these more approachable, more human. Nor does it hurt that Frazer has a nice voice for reciting poetry. He sounds something like George Carlin: he's nasal and drags out the ends of his words the slightest bit. And while it's probably a good thing that his main gig is writing and reciting poetry, his bass playing is more than adequate as an accompaniment to his recitations. The late Thomas Chapin was a saxophonist who liked both rich melodies and the wide array of noises (squeaks and honks) that saxophones lend themselves to. These noises are a nice fit for the emotional terrain that Frazer explores. (If you have yet to hear Chapin's playing, this is probably not the place to discover it; he rarely gets the chance to stretch out here.)
There are some avoidable problems that marred this otherwise fine effort. Mostly they can be summed up as mistakes of a novice prone to make mistakes due to lack of confidence. So, for example, Frazer needn't have written in the liner notes that he thought that playing in this setting revealed weaknesses in his bass playing. He's right, weaknesses are more apparent than they might have been otherwise. But Frazer is a fine bassist, and his bass is a supple and welcome addition to his recitations. Nobody would have noticed the weaknesses had he kept silent. In the same way he needn't have told the listener what the different poems were about. Similarly, in the performances, Frazer tends to try to meet the music halfway, dragging out his voice in order to make it seem like he's a singer rather than a reciter. At times it sounds as if he's trying to imitate the accompanying instruments. He should let them come to him. He should trust the music to accompany his recitation. Similarly, some of the musical interludes are much too brief; just as Chapin and Frazer find a groove and start to explore it, they cut it short. These problems, however, are really insignificant. This is a fine set of poems with stimulating musical accompaniment.
Personnel: Vernon Frazer: poetry recitation, bass, recorder with alto sax mouthpiece; Thomas Chapin: alto sax, Eb baby sax, sax-sans-enche, sax mouthpiece, flute, bass flute, nose flute, reeds, whistles, jaw harp, astro blaster, alarm clock, saw, space tube, khaen, wood block, zither, claves.
Track Listing: An Open Reading at Peter's Pub, Post-Alarm Dreaming, Troglodyte's Trilogy: The Sane / Nice People / An Afternoon Break, Manna's Manic Melody, Let Me Play, High School Then & Now (listed, but not included on the CD), Song of Baobob, Glandular Secretions, Brother Protoplasm, Shana's Going To Disney World, Two-Wolf Nightmare, Rarified Air, The Bathtub Admiral, The Furies, The Dinosaurs, Extinction, A Tale of Two Decades, Evolution, Dream Lover. Total time: 60:43.
Record Label: VR
Style: Modern Jazz