By John Murph | Published January 2021
The Poets Are Gathering is Benjamin Boone’s most ambitious recording yet, one where he recruits a superb arsenal of poets who unravel their works with razor-sharp conviction and clarity. The marriage of jazz and poetry can invite as much scorn as it does celebration, perhaps stemming from spoken-word recitations overpowering middling music or accompaniment overcompensating for lackluster verses. But when deployed by Boone, the bond can be wondrous.
The saxophonist already proved his mettle through a pair of The Poetry Of Jazz albums alongside the late writer Philip Levine, where the bandleader’s compositions underscored the poetry’s emotional intent without competing for the spotlight.
The bulk of this latest album centers on the States’ legacy of racism. Following worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, one could argue that Patricia Smith’s “That’s My Son There” is critic-proof in the sense that her socially minded purpose forbids negative assessment. The works here, however, excel beyond didactic agitprop, bringing forth singular human elements that often get lost in aspirational universality. “That’s My Son There” stirs the soul as Smith gives voice to mothers who have seen their children slaughtered in sanctioned police violence. Other pieces—which address the plight of immigrants, homelessness and compassion fatigue—unfold like engrossing short films, all of which demand concentrated engagement.
The Poets Are Gathering: That’s My Son There; Marooning; Against Silence; Poem By Poem; Deconstruction Of Idols; Truths; The Poets Are Gathering; Song; Spiral; The Sun One (Homage To Sun Ra); Your Man; Impervious Blue; Black Man; Ports Of Sorrow; Branch Library; These Current Events. (60:11)
Personnel: Benjamin Boone, Hashem Assadullahi, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Atticus Boone, tenor saxophone; Asher Boone, trumpet; Kenny Werner, David Aus, Craig Vonberg, piano; Ben Monder, Eyal Maoz, guitar; Donald Brown II, vocals, programming; Donald Brown, Alberto Díaz Castillo, keyboards; Stefan Poetzsch, violin, viola; Richard Juarez, percussion; Patrick Olvera, Corcoran Holt, Peter Brendler, bass; Ari Hoenig, Ray Moore, Nathan Guzman, John Bishop, drums; Patricia Smith, Patrick Sylvain, Tyehimba Jess, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dustin Prestridge, Lee Herrick, Edward Hirsch, Marisol Baca, T.R. Hummer, Kimiko Hahn, vocals.