Monday, May 2, 2011

Blues and Haikus - Jack Kerouac


Blues and Haikus
Jack Kerouac
Rhino RI 70939-B
1959

This was Jack Kerouac's second album, originally on Hanover Records, it was re-issued by Rhino in 1990 in a handsome box set, "The Jack Kerouac Collection" along with his other two albums and an album of outtakes.  This is my favorite of the three original albums.  I bought the box in Hollywood around the time it came out.  I couldn't really afford it, but I was a huge Kerouac fan at the time so I splurged.  I used to be involved in indie filmmaking and had a script based on the Beat Generation so I figured this could be justified as research.  As I've gotten older, Kerouac appeals to me less, he seems more narcissistic and immature to me now, but I still enjoy his style.  This album features Kerouac reading his poetry backed by saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims.  In the first track "American Haikus" the poetry and jazz basically alternate, Kerouac recites his three line poems in silence and then Cohn and Sims alternately improvise a few bars and then Kerouac recites the next poem.  I like the poems quite a bit but I'm not convinced that the jazz really enhances them all that much.  The next track "Hard Hearted Old Farmer" tries to mix the music and poetry more closely.  Kerouac basically sings the poem while Cohn plays piano in the background.  Kerouac isn't much of a singer, but I'm kind of charmed by his awkwardness.  I think as far as jazz/poetry synthesis goes this is perhaps the most successful track.  It is followed by "The Last Hotel" which Kerouac recites over Cohn playing piano and Sims blowing sax.  I think in this instance the music does enhance the poetry and it seems to inspire Kerouac to a more passionate reading.  Side two features "Poems from the Unpublished 'Book of Blues'" for the entire side.  I like this track the best, particularly since it is about San Francisco, my favorite city.  Cohn and Sims duet in the background throughout the poem.  Sometimes I find the music distracting and sometimes it seems to elevate the poetry.  I think it would be interesting if there was a rhythm section that propelled the reading.  It would deny Kerouac some of his freedom perhaps, but I think the propulsive effect might give more force to the reading.  Regardless this track does feature Kerouac's most exciting reading, I find it very engaging.  The music is also very stimulating on this cut, that is why it is distracting, I find myself listening to Sims and Cohn instead of the poem at times.  I like this record quite a bit, it works both as music and poetry.  If you have any interest in Beat poetry or even just the possibilities of spoken word recordings, it is worth checking out.  Recommended for Dharma Bums with a taste for be-bop.

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