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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Declared Enemy - Salute To 1000001 Stars (RogueArt, 2007) ***

I have mixed feelings about this record... Again, a courageous thing by the French label RogueArt to release this adventure. An American line-up consisting of Matthew Shipp on piano, Sabir Mateen on clarinet and alto saxophone, William Parker on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, is among the best free jazz units you can assemble, but then performing in the company of Frenchman Denis Lavant, who recites French texts by Jean Genet. The idea was Shipp's, because of his admiration for the French author. Yet the concept doesn't work very well. My first problem is of a general nature : the combination of music and poetry doesn't mix well. Poetry is in the very first instance meant to put words in a musical language, without being spoken out loud, and definitely not with the intention of being spoken with a musical backdrop. The spoken word looses this competition, by a big score difference. I do not know of any successful examples at least. It's often quite the contrary, they're examples of pretence. My second problem is specific : Denis Lavant's reading of the texts is in the 19th Century romantic mode, quite pathetic actually, and probably more suited for poets such as Verlaine or Rimbaud, but definitely not for Genet's attacks against the political system of the 60s. My third problem is that music and text were recorded separately, leading to a certain artificiality. Luckily, the spoken word just spoils two tracks, but together they last more than half an hour. The saddest thing is that the music is good, and the other tracks are a real relief, despite keeping some of the menacing tone of the texts, but then with the sensitive clarinet and the precise and often dissonant expressive piano, and the whole band doing great things. There are more CDs that I re-recorded, filtering out the spoken word. I will do it again with this one. The music is great, I can only applaud the courage of the initiative, but too bad not all roads lead to success.