“a person woven in jazz”: Album Review of Jaguar Harmonics

By Klara du Plessis

The album Jaguar Harmonics is a magical hybrid of richly evocative poetry written and recited by Anne Waldman, set to a landscape of sound by Devin Brahja Waldman, Ha-Yang Kim, Daniel Carter, and Ambrose Bye (at Fast Speaking Music studio in NYC). Here word and music combine to birth a brilliantly contemporary genre that straddles storytelling, opera, and a general free jazz kind of sound.

The poetic content centers around the jaguar as mystical guardian and “keeper of the cosmos,” channeling myth of the Amazon jungle. It is told how the jaguar navigates the forest at night, seeking out the hallucinatory Ayahuasca vine, so that by ingesting it, it can purge, and experience visions. While this narrative of the jaguar introduces a spiritual overtone for the album as a whole, it is also the catalyst for larger questions of environmental and humanistic ethics. For example, the speaker takes up the environmentally disastrous issue of fracking, creating a mantra through repetition: “hydraulic fracturing, don’t like it, don’t do it, don’t like it, don’t do it.” Deity is infused into humanity when, instead of exclaiming: “oh my God!” the speaker deliberately articulates: “oh my persons!” Persons become godlike, so that crimes against humanity are exponentially grotesque: “You can’t just go around at night and kill and rape and conquer persons.”

The number of atrocities referred to throughout the narrative – environmental destruction, genocide, displacement, rape, murder – insinuates a degree of righteousness or of judgment. When the speaker recites “wrong, wrong, wrong” it could seem that the album is very message-oriented or didactic. Yet when listening more closely, “wrong” interchanges with “run”: “wrong, run, wrong, run.” Judgment is deconstructed so that a negative sentence (wrong) also becomes a route to escape (run), escapism, but also a transformation toward mobility, then the freedom to react productively against the problem. Through a savvy layering of voice, judgment is not localized in a single entity. The speaker, the voice, is the Ayahuasca vine, but it is also the jaguar; the voice is mysticism; the voice is the poet; the voice is Anne Waldman; the voice is the music. Polyphonous, responsibility for judgment or utterances of truth is dispersed through the mouths of different beings, and so by definition nuanced, rendered multiplicitous.

Polyphony is of course also an integral aspect of the album as a whole, since its production hinges on the collaboration of poetry and music. Although each musical track comes across as perfectly polished, to the layman’s ear even composed, the jazz soundtrack is apparently freely improvised, implying a unified conversation between musicians. Individual instruments express themselves with collaborative purpose. As a whole, the music creates an excellent atmospheric backdrop for the narrative, never crowding the recitation, rather supplementing, expanding it and drawing pictures for the mind. As such, the music is interpretational only in the positive sense that it enriches the word with wider expressive possibilities. At the album’s best, poetry is music, performative, rhythmic; music is poetry, a language in pure sound.

Enjoy streaming Jaguar Harmonics.

Anne Waldman: text and vocals
Devin Brahja Waldman: alto saxophone
Ha-Yang Kim: cello
Daniel Carter: trumpet, clarinet, flute and saxophones
Ambrose Bye: sounds and production at Fast Speaking Music Studio

Anne Waldman born in 1945. Grew up in NYC. From 1968 to 1978 served as director of The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, curating readings with The New York School and Beat Generation poets. In 1974, with Allen Ginsberg, co-founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University; has continued to teach there on-and-off since. She is the author of 50 or so books of poetry. Has collaborated with countless musicians, filmmakers, dancers, visual artists and poets.

Devin Brahja Waldman grew up in Cherry Valley, N.Y., New York City, and Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Lived in Montreal between 2003-2013. Has performed with Anne Waldman, Patti Smith, Daniel Carter and Thurston Moore. Has lead Brahja Waldman’s Quintet since 2008. Also performs in Land Of Kush and YouYourself&i. Currently vice president of Fast Speaking Music in NYC.

FSM (Fast Speaking Music) has released recordings of Amiri Baraka, Joanne Kyger, CAConrad, Marty Ehrlich, Thurston Moore, Akilah Oliver, Edwin Torres, Clark Coolidge and many more.

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