4 1/2 STARS
Saxophonist Benjamin Boone continues his ambitious foray into jazz and poetry, this time recruiting an impressive cadre of poets for his aptly entitled release, The Poets are Gathering (Origin, 2020). The union of poetry and jazz has never been so powerfly presented, reflecting the past year of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement, the universal role of the poet, and the power of art and voice to raise awareness and inspire change. The album employs the likes of US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, poet-playwright-author Patricia Smith, poet Kimiko Hahn, poet-essayist T.R. Hummer and a host of others.
Boone's previous two releases featured his association with the late Detroit based poet, Phillip Levine, who was also a colleague at California State University, Fresno. With the narrative changing from working class Detroit, to a worldwide call for justice, Boone does his part in skillfully weaving the fabric of voice and sound into a common amalgam of emotion. He leaves no separation between the two, with the music not simply supporting the voice artist, but seemingly physically getting into the throat and lungs of the poet as one voice unified.
Smith's "That's My Son There," is a deep down, soul impacting narrative which powerfully gives voice to mothers whose children have been murdered at the hands of the police. Boone's music is a climatic, dynamic vamp, with his piercing, wailing soprano providing color points of intensity and outrage.
Herrera's title track travels the globe from city to city, defining the centuries-old task of the poet to inform, uplift, and spur to action. He speaks of poets who are "talking in cafeterias," and translating "without ivory colored shirts." He speaks of poets who are "busy writing denuncias" and those who are "drumming, drumming on the streets." Boone's sense of dynamics clearly pushes the cadence of the piece, with Herrera reacting with his usual flair, rolling harmoniously with every blow Boone supplies.
T.R. Hummer speaks of a biblical journey to "excavate Babylon from an overgrown lot in Chicago," in his homage to jazz artist Sun Ra, "The Sun One." The music is a blistering chant beginning with John Bishop's drum-and-cymbal-intro leading to a sustained landscape of fibrous distortion from guitarists Ben Monder and Eyal Maoz. It is a perfect tribute to an artist who aimed to reinvent the universe, much less the music within it.
The convening of poets and jazz musicians has a long history, from biblical works, to beat poets and beboppers immersed in a single jam. After his two highly acclaimed volumes with Levine, The Poetry of Jazz (Origin, 2018), and The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2 (Origin, 2019), Boone has managed not to overreach with this effort, but to have created a work that perhaps best defines the iconic year of 2020 in no uncertain terms. It is important to understand that this is not a jazz session record with spoken word added as one would add another musical instrument. It is not an album of recited poetry drawn on top of a musical canvas. It is a sound which presents important poetic works in the context of sound and emotive playing. There is no line of demarcation, only artistic unity afloat in a solution of truth. The effervescent Boone is three for three on the jazz meets poetry front. Will he next swing for the fences with a grand slam?