Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Review - Patti Smith with Soundwalk Collective (2016-2020)

The final part of the Perfect Vision trilogy is now available and this feels like a good time to evaluate all these poetic adventures as a whole. 

Killer Road (2016) is pre-trilogy, and is dedicated to the German poet Christa Päffgen. She is known in our culture as Nico. The introductory piece is a spoken word reminder of the tragic death of Christa on the road "waiting for you like a finger pointing in the night." The other eight pieces on the album are the poems of Christa performed as spoken word by Patti Smith with a unique musical background from Soundwalk Collective. For those familiar with Nico's work these pieces are unexpected and create the desire to pull out the Nico versions, which are more adventurous. Over time as these new versions become friends, it is easier to accept them as new art performances.  "There is no witness to my anger / When it stabs until it dies / I am looking for the strangler / To help me, help me with my crime".  

The next three albums were announced as a triptych entitled The Perfect Vision, with spoken word pieces assembled and inspired from the work of three French poets Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, and René Daumal. The Soundwalk Collective traveled to three regions of the world in an attempt to discover an authentic background ambiance for the words of each writer.

The Peyote Dance (2019) Recorded in the northwestern region of Mexico, the musicians were looking for inspiration in the same manner Antonin Artaud did in 1936. "I am the man who has best charted his inmost self." Humility aside, Artaud did profess an aversion for the external life being led in Europe, Asia, and the United States, and hoped to find a life of simplicity among the indigenous peoples of Mexico. He recognized the many tribes, and spent time with Tarahumara. His written observations inspired the beat writers, and Ferlinghetti's City Lights keeps translations of Artaud's work in print. 

Patti's emotional reading of Indian Culture gives the distinct impression that Artaud was not enthralled with every aspect of Mexico. This track is especially effective and provides a strong introduction to the poetry that follows. A few tracks later in The New Revelations Of Being the tone changes dramatically to an acceptance of the cuture "here where the mother eats her sons / power eats power / short of war" 

Patti writes her own words to deepen the listener's understanding of the reality of Artaud in the poem Ivry:

Slowly, he goes
From the room like any other
Toward the mountain
Toward the mountain
In Mexico
Where the soul quakes
Where the heart aches
To Mexico
Our sleeping friend
So scorned, adorned
One step, then another
From the solitary cell

Mummer Love (2020) Like Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud left France for a time to escape from "western stagnation". Rimbaud chose Africa and ended up in Harar, Ethiopia. The musicians followed his path and spent time with Sufi masters and practioners, recording their music and chants, and ambient sounds. Artaud is given space to speak to us through Patti's voice making this a true and effective collaborative effort. Soundwalk Collective has also made recordings of Rimbaud "Illuminations" which can be accessed on their podcasts page.

Peradim (2020) This recording is based on a fictional "Mount Analogue" by René Daumal. The musicians chose to visit the Himalayas as the source of inspiration for this album. The peradim is also fictional, a precious object harder than diamond that "is revealed only when someone knows they are seeking it." Patti and the Soundwalk team bring these words to life in equally fictional spirituality "we will climb / and not move / a single muscle".  There is a joyous peace throughout this enjoyable album. "The gateway to the invisible / must be visible"

I admit partiality to the final cut and tend to repeat it every time the album plays because a magical feeling of truth comes alive in me as Patti reminds all life is dependent on each other living thing. This lesson is learned by killing an old rock rat, and the energy reminds me of the poetry of Donovan Leitch: "first there is a mountain / then there is no mountain / then there is." Why does the mind make these leaps? We'll never know. Patti Smith and Sound Collective are able to capture that inner kingdom quality we all need from time to time to maintain a sense of mental balance. "Hi-ho / to the mountains go / where all / the flowers grow." 

If I ruled the world, my personal choice for a future Patti and the Collective would be a wild and raucous take on Daumal's Night of Serious Drinking

The Perfect Vision triptych works beautifully as a night of aural exploration into spoken word poetry & spirituality. It was good to experience them one at a time as they were released, and now that they are available to experience as a unit I do believe that when I revisit the set, I'll listen to them in order, in the same manner as I listen to Killer Road in the same session with Nico's final albums. 

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