Los Many Mundos of raulrsalinas
Reviewed by Phil West, Fri., April 6, 2001
Los Many Mundos de raúlrsalinasun poetic jazz viaje con friends
Calaca Press/Red Salmon Press, spoken word CD, $14
Consider the poor poetry CD. By cloaking themselves in notes, some poets can achieve a longer half-life. But for some, it's an obvious gimmick. If notes are like clothes a poet puts on, some are like Armani suits, some are like Oxford shirts and Levi's, and far too many are like parachute pants, acid washed jackets, and tiger-striped bandanas.
Austin-based poet and political activist raúlrsalinas displays a musical wardrobe of his own on his new album of spoken poetry, Los Many Mundos de raúlrsalinas. Given that much of salinas' work is overtly political, it'd be tempting to say that these particular notes fit him like the Free Leonard Peltier T-shirt you'd expect to see him wearing. Although that's definitely in the wardrobe, it's not the entire ball of clothes.
The album's title calls its particular excursion "a jazz viaje con friends" -- the friends in question being Mikey Figgins and Kevin P. Green, the bass player and drummer who back San Diego's Taco Shop Poets. Those artists are part of the roster of performance poets at San Diego-based Calaca Press, which features some of the youngest, hippest, and most accomplished Chicano voices in the entire raza. It's labeled as jazz, but at times the album actually spins more into funk territory, more reminiscent of bookish musical acts like Soul Coughing than any sort of finger-snapping Jazz Odyssey. There are places on the album where jazz happens -- including a track featuring Austin jazz saxophonist Tomás Ramirez. Yet the album reveals a salinas so vital and hip as to seem timeless if not young.
And although salinas is certainly helped by working with musicians half his age, he does not merely make himself hip by proxy. His delivery, for the most part, integrates seamlessly with the backing music, remembering the asymmetrical rhythms of the 1950s jazz he loves. Some of the subject material is precisely what you'd expect from salinas, including blasts against NAFTA and descriptions of gritty underdog lives. But some poems, such as "La Peste Arriveé" and "Reel Absurdity," display sympathies toward (respectively) an AIDS patient and Marilyn Monroe, and go in surprisingly different directions than other work on the album. There's also the added bonus of hearing how some of salinas' most intriguing verbal devices, including English-Spanish code-switching, gain the sort of life and momentum with vocalization that they can't achieve on the page.
For listeners who aren't big jazz aficionados, the second half of the album may force cries of no más, as there is no real respite from the genre like there is in the first half's more eclectic mix of musics. For listeners expecting pure poetry, the album may disappoint as the poems are decidedly interwoven with the backing tracks. But for listeners wanting an album that is secure in its identity as a poetry CD and secure in its use of music to anchor the spoken word, these might just be the Many Mundos you're looking for.