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December 1999

Jack Kerouac
Reads On the Road
Rykodisc

Jazz has influenced American poetry for the bulk of this century, but no literary movement was so deeply allied with jazz as the '50s Beat Generation writers. Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other Beats recited and sometimes improvised verse to live jazz accompaniment. Ryko's Kerouac CD unearths previously unissued material found on mislabeled acetate discs in the Kerouac archives. The centerpiece is a 29-minute excerpt from On the Road, an extended word painting of a jazz club jam session. Despite a few stumbles, Kerouac effectively manipulates language and rhythm to capture the spontaneity and spirit of improvising musicians, incorporating a potted history of the music itself. The rest of the collection is less rewarding. On two tracks, Kerouac recites lackluster poems to which his old friend, composer David Amram, has added eclectic chamber music. Three cuts feature the poet attempting to croon and scat "Come Rain or Come Shine" and other ballads without any grasp of their melodies or lyrics. The dire result sounds like some gruesome hybrid of Chet Baker and Leo Watson on the worst days of their lives. As a coda, Tom Waits rasps a Kerouac song in his current bloodshot larynx style.

Originally published in December 1999
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