Jazz/Poetry At Smalls – Hip Time Capsule Down The Stairs

March 19, 2010
Smalls Jazz Club, New York City

Walking down the stairs of Smalls, I could hear Kirpal Gordon speaking into a microphone, reciting his poem “Speak, Spake, Spoke”. This isn’t a usual evening at Smalls on two accounts: its the clubs bi-weekly  5pm-7pm poetry feature and this time the poets are accompanied by New York based jazz musicians. Each band carried the weight of the words in a different manner, treating the text to the poets liking. In fact, the styles were so different that I felt that if presented in lecture setting, it would serve as an excellent lesson in possible stylistic differences when pairing music with words.

Kirpal is energetic, charismatic and eager to create. He uses words like “blow” when describing himself reading with musicians. Claire Daly (bari sax/bandleader) insists that his readings are “sheets of sound”. I doubt she is referring to the same “sheets” that poured out of Coltrane in 1958. What I can infer, is that he is producing stream of consciousness in the sense that he is completely engaged in the moment, spewing poetic lines that may or may not fit next to one another. However, when I saw there,  letting Gordon’s passionate yet quirky the lines hit me above the mellow, rich tone of the bari sax…it works.

Following Kirpal was Barry Wallenstein, an established poet and educator in his own right, who has been collaborating with jazz musicians since the mid 1970’s.Wallenstein began working with late John Hicks (piano) and continued with him for 12 years before beginning what has been a long collaboration with Adam Birnbaum. He also got his start in the jazz+poetry performance world working with Charles Tyler (free alto/bari sax player)  appear on the musicians own label, Akba, and working with him for 15 years outside the states in France. Wallenstein is a kind, soft-spoken and takes his time with words on and off the band stand.

Both poets and bands were spectacular and invigorating. The patrons were enthralled by the combinations, proving ripping applause after each number. Lee Kostrinsky, owner and host of poetry night,  doesn’t see too many of these nights of jazz/poetry fusion but completely supports them and would love to see more down the road.  Maybe down the road Hardbop will host one down the road *wink, wink*.

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