LANGSTON HUGHES: Spoken Jazz Poetry On The Street Corner

19th September 2017

Title: The Dream Keeper

Label: Mode Avant

What an intriguing CD this is. I never really expected to see a production like this at this time but welcome it wholeheartedly.

And who exactly was Hughes? He was a poet but also an accomplished novelist and a playwright too. He is probably best known, at least in general terms, as a major part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s but never really enjoyed the broad, multi-cultural recognition for that work at the time, as he himself acknowledged, “Titles are usually awarded after the fact,” he said, “Usually they are bestowed by people who weren’t ever there at the time and never spent much if any time with the people who were. But if it makes people pay attention to the work we did, that makes it all worthwhile.”

Hughes’ Black American themes offered a cultural highlight and a point of aspiration for many black people who sought social freedom of the type rarely allowed at that time.

This CD sees the son of legendary Charlie Mingus, Eric, speak Hughes poems in a sea of spacious reverb with a big and boomy delivery that offers a slightly weary and resigned air that is just perfect for the Hughes material. Mingus talks as if he’s at the end of a long working day. A day mostly spent, if truth be told, thinking. Considering. Mulling things over. His speeches here are almost a result of that.

During his resonant contemplations, which is how the Hughes poetry is delivered, Mingus is accompanied by the piano of David Avram (who played with Mingus Snr as well as Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton and was a friend of Jack Kerouac). Larry Simon is on guitars amongst many other friends.

Sonically, the CD isn’t perfect. There’s the odd midrange spotlight during instruemental peaks and crescendos but nothing too offensive. Apart from that, this CD is tonally spacious in terms of the midrange with plenty of air surrounding Mingus that suggests that he’s shooting the breeze on a street corner. Almost talking to himself or anyone in earshot. There just so happens to be a jazz band noodling a few yards away, back against the wall over there. This is a thoughtful yet deeply meditative production. A gem of a CD.