Jazz Words & Images

Bisceglia_DalachinskyReaching into the Unknown 1964-2009
by Jacques Bisceglia/Steve Dalachinsky (RogueArt)

French jazz label RogueArt, which has issued twenty CDs, has branched out into jazz books. The first was Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue, an interesting little volume wherein poet/critic Steve Dalachinsky interviewed avant-jazz pianist Matthew Shipp about the philosophical/spiritual underpinnings of his creativity (with photos by Lorna Lentini). Dalachinsky's second project with RogueArt is way bigger, a 429-page collaboration mixing poetry and photography.

In the mid-'60s, Jacques Bisceglia started photographing American jazz musicians visiting France (and he soon came to play a major role in hooking them up with the owners of the BYG Actuel record label). In over four decades of photography and jazz fandom, he has created a massive visual archive of these men and women, mostly though hardly exclusively at the avant-garde end of the spectrum.

Jacques_Bisceglia_Miles_DavisFor nearly as long a period of time, Dalachinsky has been attending jazz concerts and writing poetry about or inspired by the music. This book matches 180 black-and-white photos and 140 poems united by common subjects/inspirations; in other words, a photo of Miles Davis and then a poem about Miles. Anyone who already has Dalachinsky's The Final Nite & Other Poems: Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006, a 256-page magnum opus consisting of poems "written while listening to live performances by Charles Gayle" plus eight collages by John D'Agostino, will have an idea what to expect.

Jacques_Bisceglia_Susie_IbarraSome of the photos here exist in color, but are printed in black and white for this book, giving the volume the visual unity RogueArt so clearly values (all the imprint's CD and book covers spring from a single template). Nonetheless, there is a great deal of variety: concert shots, studio sessions, casual moments, day vs. night, individuals or groups, the famous and the obscure (though to devotees of avant-jazz, most will be familiar, even if 99% of the world, sadly, knows nothing of Cooper-Moore, Mat Maneri, Kidd Jordan, etc.). Nearly every photo is either a striking image, perfectly captures the excitement of the moment, or displays a crucial facet of its subject's personality; many do all three. It's a price volume at around $55, but even jazz fans who have no intention of reading the poetry should find these beautiful images well worth the expense.

Dalachinsky is an unabashed Beat poet, but avoids the style's pitfalls (cheap shock value, self-indulgent autobiography, gimmicks). As one might expect from a writer so inspired by music, he has a great ear for rhythm, not the steady thump-thump beat of rock but rather ever-shifting polyrhythms, occasionally somewhat akin to William Carlos Williams' "variable foot."

Billy Bang @ Bar 55 3/20/97

compared to a simple life
the duty of stern warnings
paid for by pleasure
excess & the bottom of deposits &
overstated spent
as the ale flowed from your glass
& into my blood
beyond ailments
& bones

even bottled the way my dreams are now
the way things reach me
the way i inhale & exhale
even now on this lyrical night
the way the music so sweetly assaults me
with so many delivery boys cycling in

so many different directions
even now
surrounded by this aura of freedom
my dreams so bottled up
inside my life
watching the musicians grow

march on
march on
tis midnite
for the happy crowd
& i'm left across the street
waiting for the light to change
waiting for you to change
& for the woman in the mirror
to close her mouth around the word
she's thinking

Jacques_Bisceglia_Albert_AylerWhile sometimes far from straightforward thanks to its highly personalized worldview, Dalachinsky's poems are rarely (perhaps never) deliberately obscure, firmly based in the realities of day-to-day existence even while illuminated and elevated by the creative light of the improvised music that inspires him. While there are a few poems firmly stuck in the genre-exercise bin, specifically the jazz poem using song and album titles, even these are sufficiently witty and unstilted that they will speak effectively to sympathetic readers. Spanning decades as they do, the poems inhabit a more than enough voices and styles and textures to avoid digging a repetitious rut, and actually are so overflowing with liveliness, joy, and delight in the sound and feel of words that one is tempted to revalue the "picture=1000words'" cliche to something more balanced. - Steve Holtje

Steve Holtje

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.