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Running for the office of hip

Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed
Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed
By Conjure

American Clavé: 1984 (Re-issued 1995)

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Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon
Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon
By Conjure

American Clavé: 1988 (Re-issued 1995)

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This review first appeared in the Summer, 1995 issue of THE BRIDGE Illustrated.

There's this guy named Kip Hanrahan, and he owns his own record label, American Clavé. So having his own label, Hanrahan can record the stuff he likes, not what some snot-nosed executive fresh out of Harvard Business School tells him teen-agers will buy.

All of which is by way of saying Hanrahan's recordings of Ishmael Reed's poetry, set to jazz, are some of the best things you'll find to feed your stereo and soul. "Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon" was originally recorded in 1988; "Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed" in 1984. Both were reissued in 1995.

Reed's poems are impressionistic images of life, cutting right to the heart, pain, confusion, hope, despair and love that delineate human existence. reed writes in "Running for the Office of Love":

They say that love is dangerous
It's on the radio
That holding hands is fatal
A kiss can bring you low
The papers they keep shouting
That love means doom and gloom
Love is lying low – for a while
Until her next big bloom

The music of Conjure, the all-star outfit put together by Hanrahan, is a syncopatic melding of jazz, blues, Latin and funk. The players on "Music" include Allen Toussaint, the legendary New Orleans pianist and composer; blues singer Taj Mahal; Cuban congero Milton Cardona on percussion; and avant-garde jazz artists Carla Bley and Steve Swallow. On "Cab Calloway," Toussaint and Swallow are joined by the late Don Pullen on organ and vocals, and Leo Nocentelli on guitar.

Reed himself reads several of his texts on each CD; his baritone voice not nearly as polished as the singers who interpret his songs on the other tracks, yet lending his words even more power because of it.

It would be nice to have the poems cum lyrics enclosed with the liner notes, but the lack of them forces us to really pay attention to the recording – to listen to both words and music, to consider them as a single work.