Brown and Flanagan mind their language with buoyant bout of Hastings beat-descendancy


That so many came out to The Stade on a hot and airless night was a tribute to Jazz Hastings and their programme planning, on this occasion presenting an evening of jazz and poetry which appealed to those who recall New Departures of the 1960s and indeed the work of Kenneths Patchen and Rexroth earlier. The John Donaldson Trio – Donaldson (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Winston Clifford (drums) – was fronted first by saxophonist Kevin Flanagan. The purely instrumental numbers, with the exclusion of a fine rendition of Joe Calderazzo's 'Midnight Voyage' which opened the set, seemed slightly lacklustre, as if they were fillers between the pieces with words. Coming from Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac's birthplace, is perhaps the reason for Flanagan's interest in the Beat Poets and he conjured up an impression of those with an array of evocative works, well constructed both verbally and musically, with his composition 'Riprap', inspired by the writing of Gary Snydor. The trio's work was sympathetic, with bubbling, mesmeric piano and suitably understated, laidback drumming during Flanagan's recitations, and when the horn joined them, some fine modal playing.

For the second half, Flanagan stood down and poet Pete Brown took frontstage. For those of a certain age, no introduction is necessary. For the uninitiated, a treat is in store by delving into his history. Pinning his colours to the mast from the start, he began with a paean to early jazz artists, notably Clarence Williams, in 'Dreaming the Hours Away'. Making a distinction between poems and lyrics, he read his 'Ballad for the Queen of Outer Space', which he wrote after seeing Zsa Zsa Gabor as an unlikely scientist in the film of that name. (Variety called it "a good-natured attempt to put some honest sex into science-fiction"!) It included many of the characteristics of his art, mixing surreal imagery with sensuality, continually stretching the boundaries of reality, but keeping a rhythmic drive which supports the words and often helps give then greater impact. 'Poem For Bill Evans' followed, with his hat tipped to Mingus' album East Coasting, which was accompanied by Donaldson's appropriate Evans-style piano. Then an excerpt from the darkly pessimistic 'Blues for the Hitchhiking Dead', from the New Departures era, poignantly relevant to current events. Gearbox Records have recently issued the live recording from 1962 with Brown, Michael Horovitz, Stan Tracey and Bobby Wellins, and Brown paid tribute to his friends with 'You And The Night And The Music', making a dedication to Wellins, Flanagan joining for this section.

Inevitably, he mentioned his collaboration with Jack Bruce, as he moved onto what he referred to as his "songs", starting with 'Theme From An Imaginary Western' and including 'The Ballad of Psycho and Delia', a macabre murder ballad from his time with Phil Ryan. These songs were performed with great feeling and intensity, and though his voice strained at times in the upper register, his words seem carved and honed for greatest effect. The performance closed with two songs closely associated with Cream, for which, as he pointed out, he had a good deal of gratitude, as they were possibly the reason why he was living in a house. 'White Room' worked just as well with piano lead rather than guitar, and 'Sunshine of your Love' met with rapturous applause, the strength of the lyrics a reminder of the rich poetic vein they came from.

Matthew Wright

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