Poet Bern Porter once told me that all he asked in exchange for one of his poems was a loaf of bread. If you really liked the poem, he suggested, you might bake that bread with a few raisins inside. Porter's philosophy is certainly a far cry from today's hip-hop generation, with its cognac, scantily clad women and MTV cribs. But then again so is the jazz music we listen to. It seems like a long time ago that poetry and jazz met popular culture and decided to take the road less traveled.
When these two art forms walk together the results can be quite gratifying. Poet Cassandra Cleghorn and musician Erik Lawrence contribute music and words to this collaborative project they call Merge. Joining them are bassist Rene Hart and drummer Allison Miller.
Cleghorn's written poems are interpreted, accompanied, embellished and sharpened by the three very talented improvising musicians. Lawrence provides some impressive extended saxophone technique throughout. On "Owl the bass walks in over Miller's cymbals and bells, and the slow pace is taken up by Lawrence's saxophone. Cleghorn speaks only a few sentences, but the scene has been played out in its entirety. Lawrence's circular breathing ends with the meditative pops and clicks of his silencing keys.
In some places Cleghorn opens a piece unaccompanied, her voice bringing into mind the poems of Ishmael Reed brought to life by Kip Hanrahan in the 1980s. The band drops into a blues mode as on "No Smoke, No Wires/Dashiuh. Other places there is an odd tango, a lingering echo, some hand drumming. Especially pleasing is the patient and very woody bass of Rene Hart, playing not so much the timekeeper's role as an unfinished attic where Cleghorn goes to speak her words.
Allison Miller's drum solo opening to "Bourrée speaks with as much certainly as any words. She continues as she accompanies the poet. The minimal sounds amplify the words beyond the physical act of speaking them.
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