By Bradley Bambarger | Published April 2019
The first release from the collaboration of saxophonist Benjamin Boone and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine struck an unexpected chord: The album placed No. 3 in last year’s DownBeat Readers Poll. The Poetry Of Jazz, Volume Two was recorded at the same sessions that yielded the initial disc, held the year before the jazz-loving poet’s death at age 87.
While the first album included Levine’s poems about such jazz figures as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, this follow-up features evocations of working-class life from his native Detroit. His lyrics almost can be visually resonant, such as on “When The Shift Was Over” and “Belle Isle, 1949.” The spare, smoky setting of a workingman’s plaint, “An Ordinary Morning,” just bass and wisps of saxophone, feels ideal for the blues of a heavy head. Volume Two also adds instrumental versions of some cuts from the first installment, including “They Feed They Lion,” which sees Boone incorporate more grit into his sound, befitting a poem about the 1967 Detroit riots. For “The Simple Truth,” Boone includes both the track with Levine’s recitation and, less apt, an arrangement with Karen Marguth’s pure-toned vocalese. However lovingly produced, Boone’s settings can be marked by a sentimentality that just isn’t present in Levine’s words. Such lines as “White hands the color of steel/ They have put their lives into steel” seem to ache for a more cutting edge.
The Poetry Of Jazz, Volume Two: Let Me Begin Again; An Ordinary Morning; The Simple Truth; They Feed They Lion; To Cipriano, In The Wind; The Poem Circling Hamtramck, MI, All Night, In Search Of You; Belle Isle, 1949; Yakov; Snow; Godspell; The Helmet; The Simple Truth; The Conductor Of Nothing; South; Saturday Sweeping; Blood; When The Shift Was Over; Godspell (Homage To Phil & Brian). (71:58)
Personnel: Benjamin Boone, alto, soprano saxophone; Philip Levine, Karen Marguth (8, 12), vocals; David Aus, Craig Von Berg (2, 5-7, 13, 16), piano; Spee Kosloff, Nye Morton (1, 11, 17), bass; Brian Hamada, Gary Newmark (1, 11, 17), drums; Max Hembd (4, 8, 11, 15), trumpet; Stefan Poetzsch (1, 7), violin; Asher Boone (4), trumpet; Atticus Boone (4), French horn.