Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry Wallenstein and Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective at Vortex

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New York beat poet Barry Wallenstein joined Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective on Tuesday for an evening of verse and jazz at the Vortex. The wry tenor of Wallenstein’s delivery and his well-observed poems were given urgency by Hobart’s quintet. This was the poet’s first collaboration with the group, but it resulted in immediate chemistry. As Wallenstein put it “It’s unusual to step into a circumstance for the first time and have such a great time.”

The band drew on tunes from their 2012 album The Third Fish, and drummer Eric Ford (of Partikel fame) and bassist Greg Gottleib were the chief architects of a number of great grooves. The set began with the title track’s insistent backbeat, over which Wallenstein evoked an atmosphere of Wall Street greed, intoning drolly “You need money honey, to grow money.”

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Hobart’s Collective continually found space within their charts to react to Wallenstein’s poems. In ‘New York to London’ trumpeter Chris Lee carefully added Harmon mute licks in a nod towards the jazz clubs of 52nd street, and ‘Days of the Week’ saw the group employ free improvisation to mirror the claustrophobia and anxiety in Wallenstein’s meditation on nuclear apocalypse.

The highlight of the night was the Wallenstein’s ‘Lucky Man’, recited over UJC composition ‘The Vista’. Hobart’s gruff tenor sax sound whipped the 12/8 groove into a storm, and a tumultuous piano solo from Danny Keene had Wallenstein grinning from ear to ear, as things became increasingly raucous.

Earlier in the night, guitarist Moss Freed had showcased his new experimental quintet in the support slot, with free jazz that combined both spoken and sung verse. Although his group no doubt has something to say, there was a sense that they haven’t quite worked out how best to say it. Wallenstein, however, found that elusive sweet spot and he was buoyant in the company of Hobart’s gang. As Wallenstein said after the first number “This is always an experiment,” and thanks to Hobart we were ushered into the laboratory just as the blue touch paper was lit.

– Jonathan Carvell

– Photos by Roger Thomas