Saturday, January 03, 2009

the tenor-man

[for Neil Ostercamp]

a hotlight punches through the dark,
setting the stage afire
crowning the night band
with blazing halos,
now-crown princes of Cool
and basking in the final seconds
of anonymity—
their horns resplendent,
lacquer-tongues of flame
in radiant silence,
miming eloquence,
bells bulging-pregnant with song—

the sight of it
makes me think:
won’t take long to get
the whole damn band going
alto trumpet drums and piano
plus audience
hemorrhaging a rhapsody
like exploding—
the darkness and the music and the bodies
one mass of color and sound and smell—
the existensual:
perfumes and sweat mixing
with heavy breathing
and the minor melody,
the beat of the percussion bleeding into the
glossy blacks on shoes and
hot pastels of cotton
and the taste of gin

and the lithe tenor-man,
smiling like the Cheshire Cat
because he knows what’s coming
puts the horn to his shit-eating-grin,
steals a deep breath
and barks out a liquid telemetry
that pours through the room
his eyes closed
lids fluttering
as if giving notice:
this space belongs
to him
and tonight
we’ll take
Giant Steps
until the wailing-some river
of sound is
drowning every space in the room
and shooting through the crowd
its refrains crashing like waves
rolling along the tabletops
and pouring into every crack
in the brickwork;
tides in syncopation
into conversations,
between the clink of glasses,
rafting over the sound of shuffling feet;
blue notes cresting their way towards the back,
til they explode out the door
and through the casements,
all the way out onto the street
and into
the night

so what, so what

tonight we’ll remember there were
things we’d wanted once
before this tenor-man steals a breath
and thumps that serpentine melody
until we forget—
a prizefighter
ducking and weaving the beat,
the poor band choking to keep up,
from his new math:
‘rhythm post-Bop rope-a-dope’
and god-damn!
I’ve seen it before,
the boy letting it be known
he is a motherfucker
with a trajectory
saying ‘so what’
while destroying the joint
with this orgy of sound
wrapping himself around the horn
like the contortionist’s
brand new act:
“The Drunk’s Car and the Tree”
Don’t know where the metal ends and
flesh begins
one tenor-chassis,
one violent extension of his body,
its voice: his
blues, his
on a theme of
neverending night
so he
makes love
to the melody
pillow-talking it,
getting that horn
preaching to every body in the joint
holding sermon
a theophany
arpeggios like hal – le – lu – jah
blithe man
diving through his lower registers
going down,
searching for that low B
hal – le – lu – jah
seducing the tenor
to speak in tongues,
slang I didn’t know I’d wanted—
making me ask:
what do I do
with all these verbs
down,— I have been given?
they wouldn’t even conjugate
if I tried.
down, B downBeat.

all it takes is
one slap of the tongue
to make me think
jazz is not music—
it’s language
all the way

the lexicon of midnight

and god-damn
if this tenor-man’s grammar
ain’t the bluest shade
of proper—

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