Frank Carlberg’s Uncivilized Ruminations is an interesting piece of work on multiple levels. While it is impossible to question the musical expertise and passion on display, much of the pianist and composer’s latest borders on the pretentious.
At times, Uncivilized Ruminations is snarky and sarcastic. Filled as it is with winks and nods to the knowing listener, it is as distant a record as it is a challenging one.
Carlberg’s aim here is to explore contemporary American and European poetry. Along with vocalist Christine Correa, saxophonists Chris Cheek and John O’Gallagher, bassist John Hebert and drummer Michael Sarin, Carlberg ventures into works by the likes of Jim Gustafson, Anselm Hollo and Kai Nieminen.
“Lunatics” opens the album on a bizarre note. Correa, blessed as she is with talent, croaks and shouts out “lyrics” that come from an 1852 medical journal. She tries to convey some poetic value to the language, pouncing on words that are supposed to encompass the causes of psychosis in males. “Political events,” she lists. Go figure.
More offbeat poetry can be found on “It Was All About…” This track, a rendering of Hollo’s retelling of Tristan and Isolde, carries a barely-there groove and Correa’s vocals. Carlberg grounds things with a solo and O’Gallagher’s soprano sax is a treat, making the trial of the piece worth it after all.
Elsewhere, however, the challenges do more to distance the listener than anything else. While those familiar with contemporary poetry may sense something more in the quasi-parodies and semi-satires at work, the more unwashed among us may falter and fail to gain much meaning.
Works like “Misanthrope” do better at transmitting a message, though. A wild romp opens the piece to Correa’s vocals. She expands a 14-word “serio-comic poem” from Nieminen into something unique and fun, but it’s the jangle of saxophone and sticks that really make this a treat for the senses.
While there’s no questioning the talent and passion of the musicians, much of Uncivilized Ruminations is far out of reach. The challenge is there for the taking for those interested in delving into the crossroads of poetry and untamed jazz, I suppose, but this just isn’t my thing.