Frank Carlberg

The American Dream

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The legendary poet Robert Creeley passed away before this project was finished, so he was not able to enjoy one final fruit in his many years of labor. Creeley's word play has previously found a home with jazz musicians like Steve Swallow, Steve Lacy, Steve Kuhn, etc., but here pianist Frank Carlberg has merged his style of progressive and modern creative music with the vocals of Christine Correa, a singer in the mold of Irene Aebi or Ingrid Sertso-Berger. With tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek also on the front line, these three create an existential landscape perfectly suited for interpreting Creeley's craggy, downtrodden, realistic words that shred dreams, hope, disillusion, and fear into smaller components that beg to be exploded by a simple twist of fate, stereotype, or resolution of human spirit. It's that delicate balance of skepticism and eternal forward motion that identifies what the band, and especially Correa, does with these musings on life in our dysfunctional nation. At times the outstanding instrumental music gets lost in translation of the words, but Carlberg's inventive mind has themes as complicated as the visionary content of Creeley's expressionism. This involved music, with expert help from Cheek, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Michael Sarin, deserves a further, closer, revelatory listen on its own. "We Get Crazy" also emphasizes "we have fun" as a tricky 7/8 time signature perfectly emphasizes both aspects of artistry. At times spiky and spastic at once, "There..." and the post- to hard bop "Time" displays clipped phrases that reflect on the exponential usage of two words within two worlds. The title track is a frustrating tale of daily struggle in need of its own economic stimulus package. "Loop" turns on an axis, an endless cycle of quiet desperation as Cheek and Correa convene to talk about it, "Sentences" is a free blues on a man, perhaps Creeley's self-portrait on completed thoughts, and the howling "Be at That" in 5/4 time shows how repeat lyrics can take shape in infinite ways. Dark schizophrenic contradictions about Marilyn Monroe are evoked during "Names," sexual overtones unmistakably identify "Echo I & II," and a pensive, hopeful anti-war statement during "If Ever There Is" closes the program. This album of 12 tracks is meant to be heard from start to finish to embrace how the shattered and exploded myth of the American dream is manifested in contemporary life. Being the jazz modernist he is, Carlberg and the band fully understand, while the unseemly, burning vocals of Correa bring Creeley's lines to an ultimate tipping point, oft times boiling over the rim. A musical and artistic triumph, albeit for specific tastes and followers of Creeley's work over the years, it puts an emphatic period on his career, and a big feather in Carlberg's cap.

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