Jazz and poetry just seem to go together. You get a trio - say, bass, piano, and drums - on stage to lay down tunes, and there’s always somebody in the crowd who’s imagining what words would go well with the music. I’m not thinking lyrics, but simply verse you might want to read to the backdrop of sound. And if that person was to get on stage with the band and start reading those words, the entire show would take on a whole new vibe. The audience would be treated to a third creation, improvisational and new.
Think of an instrumental song you like. Fire it up on your CD or mp3 player and imagine some spoken verse you might like to add to it. My own opinion is that it’s easier to put verse to music if the instrumental is on the slow side, since there are more places in a slow song where words might fit.
Could you write a poem to Black Sabbath’s Laguna Sunrise? No lyrics, no singing, just speak the words that represent where the song takes you. Yeah, I know it ain’t Jazz, but you get the drift. (PS: don't judge, just listen to the song - LOL)
Poetry and Jazz as a combo was why I chose So There for a review. In this case, though, the POETRY was written first, and the musicians have created some sweet music around those words.
Most people who’ve read my reviews are very familiar with my love of Alan Parson’s Tales Of Mystery And Imagination. I’ve talked about it several times. That album also contains written verse (by Edgar Allan Poe) and the music that was composed around it. In the prelude part of The Fall Of The House Of Usher, the Poe verse is read by Orson Welles.
"Shadows of shadows passing. It is now 1831, and as always, I am absorbed with a delicate thought. It is how poetry has indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential. Since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception, music - when combined with a pleasurable idea - is poetry. Music without the idea is simply music. Without music or an intriguing idea, colour becomes pallor, man becomes carcass, home becomes catacomb, and the dead are but for a moment motionless." - Edgar Allan Poe
Such a haunting piece, and also very appropriate to our review. The combination of music and poetry is part of our very souls. Heh, heh, but before we start to tumble down this nervous path into Poe's world, let’s end the examples and go back to this month’s album.
Unlike the sampled video - I was anything but frightened when I enjoyed the music of So There for the first time. No scares, no shivers; the music written to this poetry is a lot of playful fun and emotional satisfaction! So clear your musical palates of the Poe scenario, and get ready for some tasty poetry and musical compositions!
Swallow, the renowned Jazz bassist who has collaborated with many musicians (as you’ll see in the Wikipedia article), had also worked with famous poet, Robert Creeley, on two previous albums of music set to his writings.
This, their third collaboration, ended up being Swallow’s final tribute to Creeley, who died in 2005 before the album could be recorded. Creeley had prepared the vocal recordings of short poems that were to be used on the album, then sent them to Swallow so the musical side of the collection could begin. After Creeley died, Swallow continued with their plans, and released So There in 2006. The result is a sweet tribute from bassist to poet; these are some very lovely musical pieces that complement the spoken word.
Featuring: Steve Swallow - Bass, Composer Robert Creeley - Composer, Spoken Word Steve Kuhn - Piano
...and the Cikada String Quartet
- Henrik Hannisdal - Violin - Odd Hannisdal - Violin - Marek Konstantynowicz - Viola - Morten Hannisdal - Cello
The album is some fifty delicious minutes of music and verse, and each number is a treat of style and presentation. The meter and cadence of the poems vary, and will make you smile each time the music falls into balance with the rhythms of Creeley’s vocal delivery. Full focus is given to his words; the poetry is not buried or cluttered up within the music, but takes the reins with full front-and-centre control. Swallow’s bass is a smart, beautifully played foundation for the Jazzy tunes, Steve Kuhn’s piano feels so right as the counter-balance to the bass, and the Cikada Quartet, out of Norway, provides a rich filling for this already tasty pie.
As the music begins for each piece, you should start thinking about the words that’ll be coming, because Swallow and Crew build the tunes as anticipatory run-ups to the poems. Think about what’s to come and see if the delivery of the verse meets your expectations.
Or... do nothing with your mind and let yourself be surprised.
The opening number, Oh No, is only 34 seconds long, and is the only tune that does not feature a musical intro. Its place at the beginning of the project was a good choice. Because of the nature of the rest of the tunes, I don’t want to spoil the little treat you’re gonna get with each piece by revealing too many details. This one’s for the listener to savour, one taste at a time.
Um... okay, just a few hints:
- Opening bass (and then piano) of Here Again - too seductive for words! Amazing song.
- Bass and strings on Sufi Sam Christian. Sooo good.
- The whole song called Later.
- The whole...
...oh never mind. I was right before. You don’t need encouragement from me to find the hot spots on this one.
01 - Oh No 02 - Names 03 - Here Again 04 - Ambition 05 - Indians 06 - From "Histoire De Florida" 07 - Sufi Sam Christian 08 - Later 09 - From Wellington, New Zealand/ From Eight Plus 10 - Miles 11 - Just In Time 12 - Return 13 - Echo 14 - Sad Advice 15 - Riddle 16 - Blue Moon 17 - I Know a Man 18 - A Valentine For Pen
One note: the album sounds better on CD than through mp3 streaming, because it’s originally presented as one continuous recording without stops. The pieces merge into each other. With mp3s, if you listen to the whole thing at once, the pieces are separated into individual songs, and the continuity is broken up. I recommend the purchase of this album as a CD, rather than as a digital package of mp3s.
This is a really wonderful kind of music, and I really recommend it to you. The more I listen to it, the more it draws me into its environment. It’s like taking a bite of a food you don’t know much about. The first bite is nice and tasty, so you go back for more, and each subsequent bite increases your desire. After three or four run-throughs of listening, I was absolutely in love with this album. Swallow and Creeley must have had a wonderful relationship to have inspired each other so creatively. It shows. It really shows.
I see this review as simply a sounding board to the opening of your hearts to these men. If you're not too familiar with Swallow or Creeley, I really recommend you look into some of the links and articles; this type of music and these types of artists are worthy of your attention. Look through some of Swallow’s other recordings, Kuhn's piano work, and Creeley’s vast body of writings. I’m sure you’ll be adding some of this art to your collection!
© 2015 - CL Seamus for Thunder Row