Benjamin Boone | Philip Levine

The Poetry of Jazz

origin 82754

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MUSIC REVIEW BY Jeffery Gleaves, The Paris Review

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Before his death in 2015, the former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Levine partnered with the saxophonist Benjamin Boone to record live jazz and poetry reading sessions. The Poetry of Jazz, fourteen original jazz compositions paired with fourteen poems by the late poet laureate, has finally been released and is available in nearly every format (CD, Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube). The LP opens with one of my favorite compositions, a scat-style jazz take that plays behind Levine reading his poem "Gin." The song begins, and the saxophone and scat singer flutter to a syncopated beat, bopping between the bottom and top of the scale, when Levine reads, "The first time I drank gin ... " There, the music breaks, and a soft high-hat carries them through before he continues, "I thought it must be hair tonic"- what timing! Then, as if to give the musicians permission to continue the breakdown, a smooth bass line is introduced before both the poet and musicians comfortably move into a new musical phrase. What strikes me most about The Poetry of Jazz is that the composition seems so natural. It's surprising and impressive that these studio takes were live: there is no mixing trickery here. Poetry and jazz have long been great partners, but The Poetry of Jazz offers a fresher take, just like Levine's poems give us new, heroic looks at the ordinary lives of the lower-middle class. As the poet Carol Frost wrote about his work, Levine will "be remembered for his giving voice to the complicated lives of men and women and for making something closer to simple song than ordinary speech." The Poetry of Jazz is a master poet's contribution to the musical genre, one not to be missed.






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