Michael Zilber

The Billy Collins Project: Eleven on Turning Ten

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Billy Collins has been presented as the most popular poet in America, meaning that he's got a fair amount of renown and some potential expectations included with any works involving his poetry. Taking something of a chance then, sax player Michael Zilber took on the task of providing a jazz score to go with readings of Collins' work. It's ambitious, to say the least. Over the course of the album, various pieces are presented, ranging from the inspired reminiscences of youth (in the almost-title track "On Turning Ten") to the domestic annoyances of a barking dog (in "Another Reason I Don't Keep a Gun in the House"). The poetry itself is frequently comical, always somewhat approachable (Collins himself would term it "hospitable"). The delivery of that poetry, however, is somewhat hit-and-miss. Andy Kirshner puts in an outstanding effort with the verses, but tends to over-enunciate to the point of somewhat divorcing himself from the music. Rather than appearing in a lyrical sense then, the words become almost unhooked, separate (and occasionally off-rhythm) from the music. The music itself is crafted well for the project -- Zilber has an excellent sound on the sax, with clear influences from the post-bop era, but restricts himself to separate passages of highlights to fill the longer silences. The rhythm section, headed by pianist John Burr, shows individual skill during short solos, but largely remains as only highly capable accompaniment to Kirshner or Zilber. They hold the music together without intruding, as it were. It's a noble project and enjoyable for many reasons ("Paradelle for Susan" being an excellent reason), but perhaps it's more for fans of poetry than for fans of jazz.

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