Our old friend Ben Weaver is releasing his new album, Sees Like A River, tonight at Creation Audio. Here is a link to information about tickets, but it appears online tickets are sold out — the good news is that a few seats for the intimate show have been reserved for walk-ups.
For the first time since 2008’s The Ax in the Oak, Ben recorded the album with a backing group — this time with the members of Alpha Consumer, who are some of the most talented musicians in the Twin Cities. The album also includes several short spoken word pieces, such as this one, “Uncle Whistle Bone.”
Sees Like A River is being released in a limited edition letter-pressed package which includes poetry as well as the disc. The band fits seamlessly along with Ben’s songs, but you’ll have to get yourself a copy to hear for yourself. Tonight’s performance is certain to includes the new songs as well as poems and stories from Ben’s bicycle travels and clean water advocacy projects.
This LP celebrated the 15th anniversary of “Dial-A-Poem,” an artistic endeavor inaugurated in 1968. Long before you could do your banking from the convenience of your kitchen through the telephone, you could hear a poem by published writers such as John Giorno (who conceived of the idea in a conversation with William S. Burroughs) or unknown amateurs.
Dial-A-Poem released several LPs of material prior to this collection, but it is no longer celebrating anniversaries having been long ago eclipsed by the internet. The material heard when you called Dial-A-Poem were often recorded with a live audience, and You’re on the Hook draws from live musical performances spanning about ten years.
We set aside this copy for a customer who is a big fan of Patti Smith, but before that we recorded about half of the first side to share with you today. The tracks are by: Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith, Jim Carroll and Frank Zappa.
It is nearly impossible to separate the poems of Langston Hughes from jazz, if only for their clever use of syncopation and repetition. He is often described as a jazz poet, and evidence of this influence can be seen as early as “When Sue Wears Red,” poem he wrote as a teenager.
As a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, he in turn influenced many jazz musicians — when last we visited Hughes here on the Hymies blog, it was to hear Nina Simone sing the song he wrote for her, “Backlash Blues” as well as a 90s collaboration between Courtney Pine and Cassandra Wilson to interpret his poem “I’ve Known Rivers.” This second song was first recorded by Gary Bartz in 1973, but we still haven’t found a replacement for our warped copy!
Hughes himself made a jazz album in 1958 for MGM Records, which was later reissued (as pictured here) by Verve Records in 1966. On it, he reads a ‘Greatest Hits’ assortment of poems over two small jazz combos, one led by jazz writer and occasional composer Leonard Feather, who produced the project, and one led by Charles Mingus.
You have almost certainly on the back of an LP jacket if you own more than a handful of jazz records. He was, for many years, perhaps the most prolific writer of jazz liner notes in the world. In addition, his 1960 New Encyclopedia of Jazz is an absolutely indispensable compendium of history and criticism. He was a friend to Louis Armstrong, once employed as a press agent by Duke Ellington, and one of the earliest supporters of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker with his 1949 book Inside Be Bop. He recorded albums as a pianist sporadically in the 50s and again in the 70s, but remains best known as a writer.
Leonard Feather never wrote the notes to a Charles Mingus album (in fact, the Mingus eulogy from Eric Dolphy’s Last Datewe quoted just last week was replaced on reissues by notes from Feather). He often wrote about Mingus’ music, however, twice inviting him to his “Blindfold Tests” (featured in his Platterbrains radio broadcasts as well as printed in Metronome and Down Beat) in which an artist responds to several unidentified selections of jazz music.
Two years after their collaboration with Langston Hughes, Feather would be “recording director” for Mingus’ only Mercury album, Pre-Bird, which included a reworking of Weary Blues‘s “Weird Nightmare.” Still, Feather and Mingus are strange bedfellows, and it comes across in the difference between the arrangements they produced to accompany Hughes.
Weary Blues is of interest to collectors of Mingus’ extensive discography. Falling just before the watershed year (1959) in which he composed and recorded Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty, his apparently extemporaneous arrangements hint at what he had in the works. Several motifs from those three great albums can be recognized, even though he’s working with a substantially smaller group and under far more auspicious conditions — for contractural reasons, the quintet’s leadership was credited to pianist Horace Parlan, even though the work is undeniably Mingusonian.
Mingus is far more fit for the role of framing Hughes’ words than Feather, although the later is himself also a writer. Consider Mingus’ second appearance in Feather’s “Blindfold Test” in April 1960, in which he completely dismisses the first record, Manny Albam album, and would rather talk about the Civil Rights movement:
Take it off … Look, I don’t want to drag you or anybody. I don’t think maybe you should give me a Blindfold Test , because I’ve changed. I didn’t let it get started — maybe that’s not fair of me? But it disturbs my ulcer. I’d rather talk about something important — all the stuff that’s happening down south.
Feather’s form — intended to slyly suggest talent is often not judged on its own merit but under pre-conceived notions of race, gender or age — undoubtedly frustrated the iconoclastic Mingus.
Although he certainly had extensive connections in New York’s jazz scene (as evident in the group he created to perform his arrangements on Side A), Feather chose Mingus to arrange music for Weary Blues likely because of the bassist’s often confrontational attitude. When, in 1979, he wrote Mingus’ obituary for the L.A. Times, Feather described him as “a brilliant man of strong convictions, he was outspoken on racial and social matters and became a storm center in many confrontations during his peak years.”
The section here is titled “Dream Montage” and contains all or portions of fourteen of Hughes’ poems (depending on how you count his superfluous commentaries). The most notable of these is “Harlem,” the 1951 poem known for asking, “What happens to a dream deferred?” as it explores the American dream as experienced by African Americans. Its final line — “Or does it explode?” — almost ideally suited to Mingus’ musical and political leanings.
Another of the poems in this passage reads almost like it came from Mingus’ 1971 autobiography, Beneath the Underdog. In its entirety, “Final Curve” reads:
When you turn the corner
And You have run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left
Of course, Langston Hughes’ readers have been wondering what he might have meant here for decades. Is the “Final Curve” the conclusion of a personal journey along the lines of Mingus’ Me, Myself and Eye and other late compositions, or is the poem part of Hughes’ push for cultural nationalism. So much of his work was about how the African American journey to the American dream began at home, in taking pride and ownership of a heritage even when others do not. Or, as Mingus wrote in Beneath the Underdog:
So he must use what time he has creating now for the future and utilize the past only to help the future, not as a razor strop for guilts and fears that inhibit his very being. Or like it said at the end of a labor song I liked a lot when I was a kid: what I mean is, take it easy, but take it.
Last week there were celebrations of Bob Dylan’s birthday all over the world, and we’re guessing the Hibbing-bred bard didn’t attend a single one. At least, we like to imaging he spent a little time working on his scrap iron sculptures, and otherwise enjoying his peace and quiet.
Music blogs offered no shortage of lists about Dylan’s songs, from the most essential to the most forgettable. Our own list of favorites, casually compiled at the kitchen table over dinner, carried little in common with some of them.
We’re not entirely alone in our love of 80s Dylan (as this tribute album suggests), let alone those 90s and 00s orphans like “Dignity” or “Things Have Changed,” but these aren’t the first songs folks jump to name as favorites. Lists seem to lean heavy on those early classics on which Dylan built his fame, but we just aren’t eager to hear “The Times Are A-Changin'” again. Maybe we’re cynical, or maybe we’ve heard too many Bob Dylan covers. Yeah, we’ve posted one or two in the past, but we’re a little over-Dylan-ed.
And then we discovered this masterpiece of syrupy schmaltz, which out-schlocks every 101 Strings or King’s Road-style cover album we’ve ever heard. We sincerely have no idea of Sebastian Cabot was going for a serious presentation (like the Poitier readings of Plato) or camp. This album is not as famous as William Shatner’s The Transformed Man, but just as surreal in that we are uncertain whether or not we should be laughing.
As always, we’re really music fans and not movie fans, so we had no idea who Sebastian Cabot was until we listened to this album. Then we instantly recognized him as Bagheera, the wise black panter from The Jungle Book, which (again, we’re really not movie people) has apparently been re-made. Cabot was great as our favorite character in the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy raised by wolves.
Sebastian Cabot shouldn’t be judged by this single performance, nor should Bob Dylan, who we like to imagine has a secret collection of Dylan covers on shelves in his basement. And it’s really not our place to judge — if this album speaks to you, that’s what really matters. We can’t get past how mcuh Cabot sounds like Waren “The Ape” Demontague.
An unexpected benefit of running a business is that you’ll never be bored again. You won’t while away an afternoon watching the clock because there will always be something to do.
In just a couple days on jury duty (not selected yet!) I’ve been given a reminder of my pre-Hymie’s professional career. Lord, I was bored! At least during the years I was a dishwasher there was work to do.
A friend and former Hymie’s employee had an early band called the Waiting Place, which borrowed its name from one of our kids’ favorite Dr. Seuss books, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I looked for it this morning but I couldn’t find the myspace page again (you can’t blame artists for packing away early works like that if it’s their choice). Either way, it was a great choice for a name.
THE WAITING PLACE
by Dr. Seuss (from Oh, the Places You’ll Go)
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.