Ken Nordine


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During the latter half of the 20th century, few voices have permeated the airwaves with more frequency than that of Ken Nordine. During the 1950s, '60, and '70s, his rich, full-bodied pipes were all but guaranteed with the mere turn of a dial. In addition to his copious voice-over work, Nordine also issued several long-players and EPs. They featured his own unique blend of free-form, almost Dadaist poetry. These were more often than not sonically supported by some tasty post-bop and free jazz. Next! (1959) follows in the tradition established on his previous platters Word Jazz (1957) and Son of Word Jazz (1958). Continuity is maintained via musical director and pianist Richard "Dick" Marx, who had accompanied Nordine on the latter title. The swingin' and surreal "Mr. Big" hits the ground running with an archetypal sampling of word jazz. Nordine weaves a stream-of-consciousness recitation that darts between the askew and equally left-of-center instrumental. There is an uncomfortable reality when listening to the boisterous politician whose message is summed up in a single word, his own last name, "Smerd." The central character's hot-air stump speech echoes the same rhetoric that seems to be inherent within political figures throughout history. Nordine's intonations garner such sonic command that he actually could have listeners believing in the viability of his get-rich-quick "Bury-It-Yourself Time Capsules." He pays homage to the multifaceted genre of jazz on "Faces in the Jazzmatazz," as he literally and literately brings the art form to life from the ears of the Windy City. A full decade before the moon landing, Nordine wrestles with the concept of a "Manned Satellite." The inherent sense of isolation would be revisited much later in David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and Elton John's "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long, Long Time)." The album's centerpiece, "7+1," commences the second side of the original LP. In his liner essay, Nordine describes the 13-plus-minute epic as "eight statements of Christ identification, a psychiatric theology." The work unfolds with distinct stories of, in a nutshell, how Christ is observed and embraced (or perhaps rejected) from a variety of points of view. Each narrative builds upon the last, with Richard Campbell credited for the modal musical arrangement with contributions from cellist John Stronger. This is followed by the ear-otic "Hafta Have You" chant that steamrolls into a roaring out-of-control rave evoking the spirit of Lenny Bruce or Lord Buckley. Concluding Next! is a parable about the Star of David with a slightly off-kilter version of "You Ought to Be in Pictures" warbling beneath Nordine's widescreen account. In 2005, the Hip-O Select online audio boutique included Next! in their limited-edition two-CD You're Getting Better: The Word Jazz Dot Masters anthology -- making it available for the first time in decades.

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