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“Speaking of Jazz”

Oscar Brown Jr.

Many are holding out hopes for ambitious, left-of-center programming at the new Jazz at Lincoln Center, and “Speaking of Jazz,” a poetry-meets-jazz concert held in the Allen Room, seemed a step in that direction. The first half featured a stimulating cast of readers, backed by a house band with Sonny Fortune on alto sax, Reggie Workman on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. One could easily imagine a bill like this turning up at the Vision Festival (the Lower East Side’s annual avant-garde group hug), but here we were on 59th and Central Park South, listening to fractious and open-ended trio music, spurred on by free verse that was at times contemplative, at others incendiary. Behind the stage, a majestic cityscape bathed each performance in a sweep of the surreal.

Yusef Komunyakaa, a Princeton professor and Pulitzer Prize winner who recently appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, offered muted reflections on “the no-good blues” and inspired hefty double-stops from Workman, along with a closing reference to “Tune Up.” It was Komunyakaa and Sonia Sanchez who made the most compelling music of the first half. Sanchez’s hypnotic repetitions and hornlike wails had all the impulsive interactivity of a true jazz performance.

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