Poetry and jazz make a natural combination, as the history of experimental music has borne out over and over again. In this case, the Po/Jazz Connection features music by the Arpeggio Jazz and Music Ensemble, led by bassist/MC Warren Oree. Plus nearly a dozen different speakers, each of whom offers a different angleall personal. The connection, at Philadelphia's Brave New World in mid-'99, makes for interesting listening. Most of the fascination lies in the sheer unpredictability of the poetry, which shares a common focus on time but little else. As for the band, it's a standard jam-oriented group. The music on this particular Connection operates in a narrow harmonic range with few changes: it's the kind of thing that works exceptionally well as a shifting backdrop for the speakers up front. The Arpeggio group comes across as quite natural and organic, but essentially the music functions on autopilot.
Zenzele, a sparky feminist, wastes very little time on the first poetry session getting right to the point: "I be Queen Mother of this civilization!" As she elaborates, her words convey a coherent sense of urgency and perspective. Other poets follow. Khaliq tells us: "I need you next to me / ecstasy baby / Invest in me!" (and so on and so forth). Uva ascribes the pain and death of the ghetto to men, specifically those who pursue the "thug life." April Thorpe goes melodic with her vocals, draping an unabashed positivity over her performance: "Think of running naked through a field of daisies..." (Think of flower children.) Lameen Mahdee laments the shallowness of the times with reggae-tinged vocals that describe a modern day Babylon: "family values have been lost and forgotten." Lady Danco proclaims she's "dizzy delicious in your ear," translating the connection between music and words into one between sound and sensuality. Finally, L.I.F.E. goes neo-tribal in the moving closer: "The drum is a channel of energy, knowledge, and power."
Perhaps the most fascinating question that comes out of this recording is how poetry mixed with jazz somehow distinguishes itselves from rap harnessed to beat boxes. Comparing articulate jazz versus static 4/4 repetition, it's pretty easy to see a difference: high art versus pop culture. But somewhere in the middle, where the pieces blur, there's a connection and the two become one. And that's a beautiful place.