It was about damn time this album got re-issued. Long recognized as the greatest poetry and music collaboration ever set to wax, Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada finally gets the digital treatment it deserves on Chicago’s excellent Locust Music label.

Playing with a young band featuring the Charlie Parker-worshipping alto sax of Dale Hillary, Kenneth Patchen creates an album that swings harder than the sum of its parts. What’s even more amazing is the story behind the making of this album — it’s almost more Kerouac-ian than the poetry itself.

According to pianist Alan Neil, Patchen had to make an emergency trip to the dentist right before a 1959 session at the CBC’s studio in Vancouver. Despite incredible pain and numbed lips, Patchen emerged from the operation ready to perform. Experiencing problems with certain syllables, Patchen’s toughness inspired his band to reach a level all musicians aspire to attain — to truly wail. Drummer Bill Boyle does his best Philly Joe Jones imitation, while bassist Lionel Chambers keeps the beat loose and galloping right along. Alan Neil’s piano is understated, yet complementary to the rest of the ensemble, and Dale Hillary, only 18 years old, effortlessly channels his idols Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker.

On top of all this, Patchen prophesizes with verve, speaking primarily on the post-WWII reinvention of America. It’s his delivery that sets this collaboration above all other jazz-poetry combinations. His sing-songy raps make his low howls and moans that much more effective. When Patchen has something to emphasize, he makes sure it gets heard. Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada avoids the pretentiousness associated with jazz and poetry in a way no one else ever could.

 

Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars

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