“Wild Lines” puts a jazz twist on Emily Dickinson’s work


Critically acclaimed soprano saxophone player, Jane Ira Bloom, sets the words of reclusive 19th century poet, Emily Dickinson, to jazz. The project is a two-disc album called “Wild Lines.”

“Wild Lines”: Between Emily Dickinson and jazz

I have read my fair share of Emily Dickinson, and I have never thought to associate her with jazz. However, now that Bloom has taken on the poet’s works and infused them with strains of moody jazz it makes sense.

After Bloom won the 2015 CMA/Doris Duke New Jazz Works commission, she learned that the poet was a piano player. That gave Bloom the idea to set the poet’s work to jazz. Dickinson’s lifetime (1830-1886), predated jazz, but the improvised nature of poetry, the symbolism and unexpected images of Dickinson’s work, make it logical to pair the two.

About “Wild Lines”

The two-disc recording offers one disc that is just music; the other is the poetry-based disc. Actor Deborah Rush reads the  poetic lines. In addition to Bloom on soprano saxophone, her quartet is completed by Dawn Clement on piano, Mark Helias on bass and Bobby Previte on drums.

The CD cover folds out into three panels. Two have sleeves for the discs, and one contains an entire Dickinson poem. The accompanying photos are in soft colors, snowy white and blue on the outside, and sepia and parchment inside. The result is that listeners feel as though they are visiting a literature museum. In fact, in one picture Bloom is shown looking out of a window at Dickinson’s house.

“Wild Lines'” best: “Cornets of Paradise”

In the imagination of more than one undergraduate or graduate student in English, Dickinson is a punk, a goth, or a Beat poet. The work on “Wild Lines” helps to bring at least one of those visions to life.

The song “Comets of Paradise” has a feel that is part spiritual, part café poet. The lines about “the Lord’s right hand,” done in Rush’s halting, but somehow forthright dramatization of Dickinson’s voice is moving.

The music rushes around the words, mindful of them, but unconcerned about them. The horn line seems to zip into a stratosphere of fast notes and high pitches. “Emily” remains calm, and recites her words. The effect prompts listeners to revisit Dickinson’s works.

Truthfully at times, the work does sound very Beat poet-like. And it is fine. As a student of literature, I balk at the idea of taking writers out of their time periods. But sometimes we have to. Especially with reclusive individuals like Dickinson, modern audiences have little with which to make sense of her.

I applaud Bloom’s effort here. The result is striking and artful. The recording is evidence that jazz pairs nicely with literary arts, and perhaps more like “Wild Lines” will be released in the future.

Bloom’s CD, “Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson,” will be available Sept. 8, 2017.





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