Brooklyn-based Red Piano Records has announces the release of No Money In Art by Frank Carlberg's Word Circus. This album features a stellar quintet of jazz and improvised music heavy-hitters such as Christine Correa, voice; John O'Gallagher, alto sax; Pascal Niggenkemper, bass; Michael Sarin, drums and Carlberg on piano. Word Circus is a collection of musical settings of poems by contemporary American writers such as Ron Padgett, Jim Gustafson, Ken Mikolowski and Anselm Hollo. Carlberg gives some insight in to the background of Word Circus: "This project, my 11th CD devoted to settings of poetry, is a follow-up release to the 2015 Word Circus recording. Poems on No Money In Art are thought provoking and range from light and humorous to existential musings, and to meditative ruminations on the state of our world. No Money In Art is the culmination in my work with American poets, which has continued uninterrupted for the past twenty-plus years, beginning with the release of The Crazy Woman on Accurate Records in 1995."
The songs on No Money In Art were written for this Quintet, which has, with a few modifications, been around since Carlberg's earliest works with poetry in the mid-1990s. About the vocalist Christine Correa Carlberg explains: "Christine is the main reason for the existence of this group and this repertoire; my muse as it were. I have by now written over 150 songs with poems by writers such as Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, Anna Akhmatova, Rabindranath Tagore, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Alejandra Pizarnik, etc, as well as various other texts such as excerpts from Bill Clinton's Grand Jury testimony, fragments from medical journals, pieces from legal documents, cut-up versions of the Bill Of Rights, etc. All this work would never have happened had I not had a voice to compose for. Christine provided me with that voice. She was able to execute whatever lines I would dream up and she was able to infuse the words with such powerful expression and emotion. The rest of the group has remained remarkably stable as well with drummer Michael Sarin working with us since the In The Land Of Art project (on Fresh Sound New Talent) in the late 90's. John O'Gallagher has worked with us since the Uncivilized Rumination CD about 6 years ago. Pascal Niggenkemper is a relative newcomer who stepped in to this project after longtime collaborator John Hébert was unable to participate because of scheduling conflicts. This group is really a dream come true for me as these musicians are all completely committed to the music, while bringing such strong personalities and remarkable musicianship to the plate. A real composer's paradise."
The compositions for Word Circus/No Money In Art were commissioned by Chamber Music America through their New Jazz Works program.
The songs on No Money In Art cover a broad range of moods and emotions. The opening title track features Gustafson's hilarious yet insightful ruminations that in this time of Spotify and YouTube seems more relevant than ever. Art is now just to be consumed freely with no societal concern how artists are to make a living. The poem by Ken Mikolowski is from a series of poems that he wrote titled "Ecology." After a brief introduction Correa and Carlberg deliver the beginning of the setting of the poem in rubato. Soon the rest of the band joins in with a few tempo switches including fast swing and a hint at a 12/8 groove. The text finally reaches the title of the text with Correa in full voice. O'Gallagher takes over with an intense and soulful solo statement ably supported by the rhythm section before Correa re-enters for a final recap. For The Nail the pace slows down to an almost country-western cowboy feel (reminiscent of some grooves that Shelly Manne and his groups used to incorporate in their music), with a wistful, yet playful, poem by Ron Padgett. A delicate piece delivered to perfection by Correa, it features Carlberg's piano before the voice and sax return in perfect unison to provide support to Carlberg's solo. After the return of the melody O'Gallagher has a few more fleeting thoughts before the piece evaporates in to the ether. On Banner Spangled Star, with a poem by Ken Mikolowski, we are treated to a reconstruction of the text to the "Star Spangled Banner." The setting has a loping cyclical feel with neither a beginning nor an end. O'Gallagher takes the improvisational spotlight with his characteristic energy and invention. Headline Haiku starts with a rhythmic unison figure before piano and Rhodes depart on whimsical excursions. Correa and Carlberg eventually settle in to the aphoristic text by Anselm Hollo, which is sung in a new tempo, creating a moment of Ivesian flavor with multiple strata. After joyful solo statements by Niggenkemper and Carlberg the whole band convenes on a lively almost circus-like jaunt that leads us back to the final melody statement. The mood slows down on Clarification, a duo piece with Correa and Carlberg. The acerbic wit of Hollo's text; "Not buying you/just buying you a drink," is performed with great restraint, creating a sense of melancholy. Carlberg solos on Rhodes with a fitting delicacy. Verbal Scenario is a funky romp that centers on a repeated D in the melody. The obliquely coherent text (by Mikolowski) is briefly interrupted by Correa's howling vocalizations. The solos over a cantankerous off-kilter form build throughout the piano solo in to the climax of the sax solo. A short repeat phrase in unison closes the piece. The last song, Nothing with its haunting text, "Nothing/can replace/poetry/in my life/and one day/surely/it will," places Correa remarkable vocals front and center. After an alap-like improvisational voice introduction the chant-like melody is stated with stately grace. Carlberg provides solo piano commentary before the final melody statement delivered with a hint of resignation and sadness, but no melodramatic emoting, just a powerful end to the program.
With No Money In Art, his 11th recording of settings of poetry and text, Carlberg continues his explorations of the connecting points between poetry and music. Not since the remarkable oeuvre of the late great Steve Lacy has there been such a sustained and satisfying effort in creating connections between these two spectacular art forms. May No Money In Art receive wide attention, as the music is accessible yet intelligently constructed and brilliantly performed by a long-standing ensemble that is intimately familiar with the music as well as each other.