Kenneth Patchen

Kenneth Patchen Reads With Jazz in Canada

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There are many, many -- perhaps way too many -- recordings of poets reading their work to jazz accompaniment. Some of it works, some is ok, most is horrible. But Kenneth Patchen in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's studios reading with a young Canadian jazz quartet led by pianist Al Neil in 1958, is something else. Something so much bigger that the very idea of that collaboration is what's on display here. Originally released by Folkways in 1959, it is now issued by the fine Locust label on compact disc. This set of ten pieces read by the poet elegantly, with near crazy, divine inspiration is something wholly other. Patchen wrote in an astonishing array of styles and has been all but forgotten by the academy and the Philistine Poetry Slam scene that owes its entire existence to him showing how it could be done. After all, Patchen had been working with music since he appeared with John Cage on the radio in New York in 1949. His affinity for the jazz idiom, his understanding of the blues and of Charlie Parker's innovations in bop is cellular, in his DNA, and his forceful, raggedly elegant performance (occurring only hours after major dental surgery) lifts this band beyond its own abilities into the realm of pure, swinging wail. His vision of the human heart is bigger than huge, fully redemptive, and thoroughly unsentimental while being socially savvy, sardonically optimistic and unabashedly romantic. The band kicks into high gear, swings the blues right and true and Patchen just soars, towers above the entire scene, moving through the band's changes, never missing a cue, never allowing his nuances to fall slipshod behind the beat, and his words become song, some song out of the American night that bleeds daylight brilliant, funny, tender, wild and free. The greatest poetry and music collaboration ever released -- Bravo Locust Music.

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