Ken Nordine

A Transparent Mask

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You may not know Ken Nordine by name or face, but you'll almost certainly recognize his voice. Nordine's rich, deep baritone has graced numerous radio and TV ads since he got his start in radio in the '50s, but it's best served by the "word jazz" he's recorded sporadically over the years, which marries free-flowing spoken word poetry with jazzy instrumental backdrops. On his latest LP, backed by a four-piece band featuring former Flecktones keyboardist Howard Levy, Nordine sounds so damn hepcat cool it's like he never left the beatnik era -- just time-warped straight from an Allen Ginsberg reading of Howl into a poetry slam at the Nuyorican Cafe. At 20 songs, A Transparent Mask is a little long for straight-through listening; Nordine's sonorous tones merging with the ambient jazz backdrops can provide a strong sleep aid. But in small doses, it's as cool as spoken word jazz gets.

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