Though it has been a growing trend within the laid-back atmosphere of poetry slams and other informal readings for quite some time now, the combination of a jazz group and poetry has been primarily left out of the poetry "canon" in the contemporary movement that began in the late 1950s, with the rare exception Allen Ginsberg's "Holy Soul Jelly Roll" and, if you think his voice is that bad, Leonard Cohen. The reasons for this have always been a mystery to me, and that wonderment continued after hearing the CD of elder statesman F.D. Reeve's insightful "The Return of the Blue Cat." Along with New York jazz trio Exit 59, Reeve pays his own work a great tribute with interlocking musical motifs that are rarely overbearing, and, in a rare turn for poetry-backing jazz groups, grooves that develop along with the text.
Gone with coffeehouses full of self-involved English majors, it seems, is poetry accompaniment that relies on the energy of the poet to increase their own improvisational bent and soloing. Instead, Exit 59 confines their voice to grooves that form the fabric of the poem, rather than raw feeling. They are different settings, of course, but the difference in styles serves to entrance, rather than to excite, and that is simply the exact prescription the well-composed insights of Reeve call for.
In a voice not unlike Allen Ginsberg's deliberate, enunciated shout, Reeve slices through 18 poems that take on the sometimes alter-ego, sometimes appendage, the blue cat. The cat goes through a series of rather human events, going to the Laundromat, nurturing his daughter, and getting into a fight to protect his honor. With the whim of the piano in his pocket and the distance of another species, Reeve uses the cat to make observations about the finer points of life: "No cat boarded Old Noah's Ark/ We and the Moon still run the dark/Where we cast our spells." In the background, a simple theme repeats into a counterpoint. The layers are so thick, and, suddenly, this seems to be the medium jazz was invented to pair with.