This album is a recording of a live performance of George Gruntz's so-called jazz opera Cosmopolitan Greetings, with texts taken from selected poems written by Allen Ginsberg. There is a bit of confusion here because Ginsberg's last volume of published poetry was also called Cosmopolitan Greetings ; however, the poems used for the opera come not from the book of the same name, but Ginsberg's earlier work.
The opera is supposed to be an impressionistic overview of the life and career of blues great Bessie Smith, with the singer commenting on her life in a retrospective fashion. The singer-as-operatic-character has a long tradition in music history, extending back to Claudio Monteverdi's L'Orfeo of 1607. That said, the problem with Gruntz's work is not its intentions, but its execution. The slapdash manner in which the music is allied with the text works against the type of thematic unity that one would expect in an opera, even one as disjointed and impressionistic in nature as this work. I also find that many of the poems are much more illustrative of Ginsberg's life than Bessie Smith's. For instance, Ginsberg's anti-war poem "Happening now?"? is used to show Bessie Smith's reflection on the Civil War battle won by General Sherman in her home town of Chattanooga, Tennessee. But would a black person really be opposed to a war that secured freedom from slavery for her people? Somehow, Ginsberg's anti-Vietnam stance seems inappropriate and anachronistic in this setting.
There is much fine music in the opera, but one suspects that the entire work would be better as a strictly instrumental composition. Howard Johnson's baritone sax solos are magnificent, and Mark Murphy never fails to impress. But anyone interested in "jazz opera"? qua opera will have to go back to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (or even his little-known Blue Monday ) or Ernst Krenek's remarkable Jonny spielt auf ( Johnny Strikes Up the Band ).
Jumping the Gun on the Sun; Happening now!; Those Two & Maturity; Bop Lyrics; 7th Avenue Express; FUN(NY DEATH); An Eastern Ballad; Prophecy; Death March
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