Miguel Algarin and Albey Balgochian: Soul To Sol (2011)
Miguel Algarin is a Puerto Rican poet, founder of the Nuyorican Poets Café and Emeritus Professor of English at Rutgers University. Albey Balgochian is an improvising bassist who's worked with guitarist Dom Minasi and Cecil Taylor, in the pianist's trio and big band. Together for the first time on Soul To Sol Algarin and Balgochian spark off each other, words and music combining superbly on a series of duets between double bass and human voice.
Algarin clearly loves the sound of words, relishing the way in which he delivers each one. He plays with the sounds, in English and Spanish: "A void is something to avoid" he says on "A Void," while on "Relish / Body Be Calling," he makes the idea of "mutual saliva" sound like the most romantic image in literature. His performance is engaging: he's funny ("Nuyorican Angel Voice"); angry ("Fear"); lascivious ("Relish"); and nostalgic ("Proem III") by turns, as he tells his tales, polemicizes and creates colorful theatrical images from his poetry. He even launches into song on "Nuyorican Angel Voice," with a couple of bars of "All Of Me" and "All The Way," in tribute to Jimmy Scott.
As Algarin tells his stories, Balgochian weaves over and under, and in and out of, the poet's voice with a musical imagination that matches Algarin's linguistic one. There's no need for the bassist to hold down the beat, thanks to Algarin's strong sense of rhythm, and so he grabs the chance this freedom offers to him. He creates complex machine gun flurries of notes; spidery, tangential patterns; he plucks the strings with power, then gently, almost imperceptibly; he hits the body of his instrument as if it were a set of congas; and most of all he loves to bow the strings, almost as if his bass is in conversation with Algarin. His playing on "Fiery Saxaphonist / Dematerialization" encapsulates his range: dark, threatening, bouncy, upbeat, free form, and always sympathetic to the spoken words.
"61 Year Old Junkie" is Soul To Sol's centerpiece; a story about an encounter with William Burroughs, "Willie B," the junkie of the title. It's a colorful tale, to say the least, with Algarin's graphic sexual imagery worthy of a Parental Advisory sticker. It's an ultimately depressing narrative about Willie B and his "junkie lies," but Algarin's dramatic delivery and Balgochian's atmospheric bass ensure that it fascinates from beginning to end.
The stories on Soul To Sol come from Algarin's Survival Superviviencia (Arte Publico Press, 2009), a collection of his autobiographical poems from the past 35 years. The interplay between the poet and the bassist brings these stories to life on this stylish and rewarding combination of spoken word and improvisation.
Track Listing: Relish / Body Be Calling; Sabrosura; A Void / Materialization; Life; Un Desafio; Nuyorican Angel Voice / Don't Busy My Desires; Fiery Saxaphonist / Dematerialization; 61 Year Old Junkie; Mientras Morazan; Allegro Brilliante; Fear; Miedo; But With A Difference; A Tres Vaqueros; Proem III; y En Los Eeuu / Aunque ya; Life / Slight Return.
Personnel: Miguel Algarin: spoken word; Albey Balgochian: double bass.