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Robert Creeley: Have We Told You All You Thought to Know?

AAJ Staff By

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Poet Robert Creeley has long maintained an interest in combining his verbal lyricism with other art forms. He pursues an unusual synthesis of spoken word and musical improvisation on Have We Told You, which documents a live performance from fall of '98. Joining him for the event is electric bassist Steve Swallow, who recently composed music (for his ECM record Home ) to accompany Creeley's work. It's only natural for these artists to get together and create a recording—live and in the moment—of poetry readings blended with improvisation.

Creeley's poetry on Have We Told You is remarkably unpretentious, as is the music that accompanies it. His texts deal frankly and openly with themes of friendship, loneliness, aging, humility, and mystery. The music explores similar ideas using an unusual combination of electronic effects and improvised melodicism. Guitarist David Torn plays a dominant organizing role, providing loops, guitar accents, and processed textures to serve as a backdrop for the other players—stark and deliberate melodies. Drummer Chris Massey hovers low in the mix, adding shifting dynamics and tribal overtones.

The performance on Have We Told You conveys a striking sense of mystery. Sparse and careful, the musical elements hint at and understate themes, rather than forcefully asserting them. Delicate fragments of melody and rhythm pass in and out of a loose-knit fabric of sound space. When Creeley speaks, his words flow naturally with the rhythm of the group—as if he's using his voice as a fifth instrument. The occasional element of drama he brings to the recording contrasts nicely with the delicate and introspective improvised accompaniment. Indeed, the music on Have We Told You often edges into melancholic territory. Creeley's own words on "I wandered lonely as a cloud" parallel this sense of cautious self-awareness: "It's dark out there/There's a long way to go/.../Steady, we're not lost."

Indeed.


Track Listing: Introduction; What's Heart to Say; Blunted Efforts as the Distance; I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud; It Seemed Your Friend; Upon Reflection; I was at the Door; I Like the Way; We're Here; Words Scattered; Mon Frere; Have We Told You All You'd Thought to Know?

Personnel: Robert Creeley: spoken word; Chris Massey: drums; Steve Swallow: bass; David CasT: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; David Torn: guitar, live loops, oud, microcassettes.

Title: Have We Told You All You Thought to Know? | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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