Resonate in a freewheeling fusion of words and music
with or admired. There is also a section of 20 ruminations on CD recordings by Browne’s past bands.
Non-jazz evocations encompass the natural world and domestic life (with a lovely conflation of jazz and family in the imagery of his loves in The Three Little Bops: busily ‘‘ scattin’’ about him, each into their own music just like ‘‘ bop-raptured daddio’’).
A middle section ( Frail Vessel / Steely Stuff) touches on Browne’s hospitalisation for a single lung transplant because of emphysema in 2002. Here, I Am in a Submarine at the Pole is a song of dislocation, ramping up to the cry: ‘‘ get me out, I am dizzy / real air, wind, rain, anything, get me out before I fall dragging the drips / triggering alarms’’.
There is also the charming play of poetic v medical in Big Hearts, here quoted in full:
Elsewhere Miles Davis is a beguiling ‘‘ fragile harmon / crying in isolation spatially perfect’’. And snatches of remembered jazz conversation serve to connect Australian jazzmen to the universal tradition, as in For Emily Remler: ‘‘ I might look like a good / jewish girl from new jersey / but inside I am a fifty year old / heavy set black man with a / big thumb like Wes.’’
Or again in For Mal Waldron: ‘‘ ‘ when I nod my head just play’ / a free ride, a juggernaut, new york, paris, / mars and the odd black radiographers beware when examining x-rays of the great jazz doctors they have huge hearts that are not symptoms of anything sinister. hole, / all in the first set’’. Similarly, A Short Verse to a Tall Man urges bebop vibraphonist Milt Jackson to return to ‘‘ inspire us again’’, and open the door ‘‘ to the aladdin’s cave, / of ultimate burn’’.
Introducing this handsome collection (tall, white and classical in format), John Clare touches on the poetry-jazz nexus of the 1920s dadaists and surrealists, and the beats of the 50s. There is a sort of malingering Charles Bukowski in Percussive Santa, a self-portrait (I am presuming) of the jazzman’s earlier and wilder days.
But other poetic spirits are also perhaps present. Boomerang Blues has echoes of Dorothy Parker’s deadpan humour and indeed even of Oodgeroo’s No More Boomerang: ‘‘ how I love my boomerang, as faithful as a dog / it is a living thing to me, yet made out of a log’’.
In some of the collection’s iconic Australiana, there is even a sort of jazzy Jindyworobak, as well as in the taut, imagistic portraits of the native birds in Red Hill (a kookaburra with ‘‘ his binoculars sharp / for mouse or snake’’) and Magpie Stomp, with the bird carolling ‘‘ that famous Australian lick’’. Like that, Browne’s is a vibrant and varied performance.