Benjamin Boone and Philip Levine’s The Poetry of Jazz continues the extraordinary tradition of Charles Mingus and his iconic recordings A Modern Jazz Symposium of Music and Poetry (Bethlehem, 1957) and Weary Blues (Polygram, 1958) with Langston Hughes the recordings of the great Oscar Brown Jr., such as Sin and Soul (Columbia, 1960) and those by Gil Scott-Heron Pieces of a Man (RCA, 1971) and Winter in America (Strata-East, 1974). Mr Levine, a poet laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner and twice-National Book Award winner is drawn to jazz and responds with an idiom that dwells easily in the inventive rhythm and loose lyricism of African American music which, in this instance is exquisitely held together by the powerfully forthright saxophones of Benjamin Boone and an ensemble often enhanced by horns (trumpets) and strings (the violin).
This is more than just a Jazz recording. The poetry takes us on a journey that many of us may be familiar with as we “followed around” the legendary Jazz figures such as Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins from just by listening to their recordings. What is so completely unique about this poetry by Mr Levine is that it becomes an epic narrative not simply of the Jazz legends he celebrates, but a Whitmanesque celebration of life itself; a jazz-life (if you will) lived in the romance of the idiom itself. In this respect it may not fibrillate with the blues and intensity that the poetry of Mr Hughes, Oscar Brown Jr. or Gil Scott-Heron and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) does, but The Poetry of Jazz is nevertheless epic in nature and joins the work of Kenneth Patchen (incidentally a poet who Mingus also adored) and is also reminiscent of some of the best work that was created by West Coast legends Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure.
Mr Boone is joined by saxophonists Branford Marsalis (“Soloing – Homage to John Coltrane”), the great Tom Harrell (“I Remember Clifford” – not the Benny Golson version, but one inspired by Mr Levine’s poem), as well as Greg Osby (“Call it Music – Homage to Charlie Parker”) and by Chris Potter (“The Unknowable – Homage to Sonny Rollins”). These are the pillars of The Poetry of Jazz and Mr Boone’s music gains immensely from the contributions of his guest musicians. But songs such as “A Dozen Dawn Songs, Plus One” and “Our Valley” are marvellous too as they feature the high-flying violin of Stefan Poetzsch. My Moore is magnificent himself a foil melding composition and improvisation, exploration, individuality and tradition masterfully into the lyrical aesthetic of Mr Levine’s poetry in this album to absolutely die for.
Track list – 1: Gin; 2: Making Light of It; 3: The Unknowable (Homage to Sonny Rollins); 4: Yakov; 5: They Feed They Lion; 6: I Remember Clifford (Homage to Clifford Brown); 7: The Music of Time; 8: Soloing (Homage to John Coltrane); 9: Arrival; 10: A Dozen Dawn Songs, Plus One; 11: Our Valley; 12: Call It Music (Homage to Charlie Parker); 13: By the Waters of the Llobregat; 14: What Work Is
Personnel – Philip Levine: poetry, narration; Benjamin Boone: alto saxophone and soprano saxophone; Tom Harrell: trumpet (6); Branford Marsalis: tenor saxophone (8); Greg Osby: alto saxophone (12); Chris Potter: tenor saxophone (3); Stefan Poetzsch: violin (10, 11); Karen Marguth: vocals (1,7); Max Hembd: trumpet (4, 5, 10); David Aus: piano (2-6, 10-14); Craig von Berg: piano (1, 7, 8, 10); Spee Kosloff: bass (1, 2, 3, 7, 9, 10, 12); Nye Morton: bass (4, 5, 11, 14); John Lauffenburger: bass (6,8); Brian Hamada: drums (1-3, 6-8, 10, 12); Gary Newmark: drums (4, 5, 11, 14); Atticus Boone: French horn (6); Asher Boone: trumpet (6)
Released – 2018
Label – Origin Records (Origin 82754)
Runtime – 1:08:14