Sunday, January 18, 2009

Soul Café Feeds Ear and Spirit

The theme tonight was “beauty” in poetry and music. Soul Café is, however, always about beauty in poetry and music, specifically poetry and jazz. After about five years of regular performances, usually in the Gallery of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church off Loring Park, the trio has been officially “on hiatus.” The musicians are busy with other projects, the church is busy booking other events. But guitarist and leader Steve Blons promised return engagements, such as tonight.

Jazz and poetry seem to have a special affinity for one another. The Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village has a weekly “Spoken Word” night that often brings area poets and jazz musicians together. In St. Paul, jazz and open mic poetry are on the stage every Monday. Acclaimed artists from Steve Lacy to Fred Hersch to Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling have merged jazz and poetry with great success.

Soul Café –Blons, pianist Laura Caviani, and alto saxophonist Brad Holden—not only bridges poetry and jazz, but supports that bridge with a spiritual trestle. Not surprising, given Blons weekly radio program with Michelle Jansen, “Jazz and the Spirit.” This connection too has a rich tradition within jazz, from Ellington’s “Sacred Concerts” to Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” to contemporary jazz services at churches and temples.

Among the joys of attending a Soul Café evening are the opportunity to sit within six feet of Laura Caviani’s keyboard and flying fingers, to be only a few feet away from touching the interaction between Brad and Steve, to hear purely acoustic sounds from piano and sax (Steve is plugged into an amp, but there is no other electronic enhancement), to hear music that is not on everyone’s playlist, and to be introduced to unfamiliar poets or unfamiliar works.... or just to hear beloved words and melodies again in a new context. Through Soul Café I met Pablo Neruda. Through Soul Café I encountered beautiful compositions from the lesser known works of Thelonious Monk.

Usually Soul Café builds connections between music and poetry through a theme or selected composer. Tonight, “beauty” was played out over tunes with “beauty” in the title or beauty in the melody and harmony. The set included Ellington’s “Heather” (from the Sacred Concerts), “Over the Rainbow,” “Where or When,” “Beautiful Friendship,” and Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” and “Reflections,” both with more rounded corners than the more familiar Monk fare. The combination of piano, alto sax and guitar yields music that can swing or haunt, strong on melodicism, a wide palette for shaping engaging harmonies. Brad’s slippery, twisting descents make you chuckle and shiver at the same time; Steve’s guitar sings with delicate lines and gentle chords; Laura lands perfectly placed accents and richly textured solos that create their own zen of time and space. The evening’s readers added the beauty of words from Rumi, Neruda, Wendell Berry, Grace Paley.

Together, words and music are the soul’s café.
Photos, from top: Steve Blons, Brad Holden, Laura Caviani. Photos from Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church gallery, January 18th, by Andrea Canter.