Dottie Grossman / Michael Vlatkovich: Call and Response (PFMCD021)

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Call and Response
Poems written and read by Dottie Grossman
Trombone improvisations by Michael Vlatkovich

1. If we lived on a mountaintop :44
2. The lady from Calcutta 1:05
3. What if another caveman 1:12
4. This poem is part cartoon :44
5. I’m grown up now :55
6. The hum of a place :58
7. In a sleep
In the dream
In recurring Cary Grant 1:34
8. Today I bought 1:04
9. In the canyons below 1:27
10. In the evening 1:33
11. There has been :44
12. Three Henny Youngman Poems 1:12
13. Dear Terre Haute 1:05
14. We waited the storm out 1:23
15. On a navy-blue night 1:29
16. Two about movie stars 1:34
17. The man who is more like
The murderer on his way 1:40
18. Ten P.M. 2:12
19. Six Short Cat Poems 2:04
20. The Man Who Loves His Job Makes A Poem 1:09
21. You make me laugh easily 1:27
22. Three Henny Youngman poems :58
23. Two appropriations 2:26
24. My hairdresser tells me 1:52
25. Daughter 2:52
26. In my pre-adolescent :46
27. Once upon a time 1:32
28. Two short ones 2:00
29. Three short ones 2:09
30. The weekend begins 1:35
31. Two in a row 2:46
32. Two about geography 2:02
33. Two more in a row 2:40
34. Two that seem to go together 1:19
35. …And three more Henny Youngman Poems 2:08

(c) 2004 Dottie Grossman and Michael Vlatkovich • Executive Producer: Jeff Gauthier
Art: Billy Mintz • Design and Layout: Jeff Kaiser and Dottie Grossman
Engineers: Garth Powell and Scott Looney • Best Boys: Garth Powell and Jeff Gauthier
Recorded: 6 March 2004, 1510 Studios, Oakland, CA
Recorded in real time with no overdubs or edits

A sampling of the poetry…

1.
If we lived on a mountaintop,
the fog would rise up every night,
so thick you could run a comb through it.
Every morning would look like a barbershop,
with wet floors full of leftover curls.

2.
The lady from Calcutta
is taking a breather
in the California sun.
She sits by the freeway
eating ice cream
and thinks that the freeway
is a kind of Ganges,
all foamy and shining with light.
Oh, lady from Calcutta,
you never had it so good.

3.
What if another caveman
had my hands,
after they saw me
through my teens
and spent the sixties
with me?
Could somebody else
respect that?
And would the tracery
of my lifeline
meander differently
on, say, you?

4.
This poem is part cartoon
and part injection.
I hope it has the clarity of wind chimes
or the bloody sparkle of broken glass.

5.
I’m grown up, now,
but I still find
human babies
menacing:
especially
the way they bob
their smiling,
ornamental heads.
I don’t trust them
when the filtered light
of winter
cleans the empty beach
between storms
and exposes
the desert hideouts
of dead Indians
and their toys.

6.
The hum of a place
tells me everything’s working.
I love the electrical breaths
of us and our gear,
doing pushups.

7. Three Poems…

1.
In a sleep
ruffled by guilt,
I dream of my family,
praying together,
childishly.
They are so small
that I suddenly understand
their common nightmare,
and why they call themselves
by one name.

2.
In the dream
of skyscrapers
as paper dolls,
each has its wardrobe
of tenants
that can be moved
around forever.

3.
In recurring Cary Grant
Dream Number One,
he appears on Christmas Eve
to bless the animals.

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Reviews

  1. 0 out of 5

    “Jazz and poetry have been periodically hooking up since, like, the Fifties, man, so it’s a hard thing to bring off without sounding like Ferlinghetti, or worse, Maynard G. Krebs. So, bouquets to Philadelphia-born poet Dottie Grossman and eminent L.A. trombonist Michael Vlatkovich for bringing something fresh to the conceit. Vlatkovich improvises on the poetry. Sometimes he comments on it, sometimes he illustrates, and once or twice, he outright guffaws. That is a very valid response, especially on the selections that are part of what Grossman calls “the Henny Youngman series.” These are epigrammatic little one-liners that capture some of the pathos, nihilism and absurdity of the late comic’s work. And delivered in Grossman’s nasal Philly deadpan, they’re quite funny. But they’re also short; most of the poems here are only a few lines long, and that makes most of the 37 cuts on this hour-long CD little more than sketches. But they’re enjoyable sketches, miniatures, really, and several are laugh-out loud funny. A pleasant way to spend an hour.”

    -John Chacona, Signal-to-noise, Spring 2005

    “Call and Response is a full-blown poet-musician collaboration between Vlatkovich and Dottie Grossman. “Full-blown”, though, seems not quite the precise word for this intimate session. The structure is simple: Grossman reads a short poem, or two or three related poems, and then Vlatkovich responds on unaccompanied trombone. This only works if both parties are at their best—and they are.
    Vlatkovich gets a chance to explore the range of advanced trombone techniques and muting. No contemporary trombonist is as diligent in exploring the trombone palette. But Vlatkovich is not showing off. Instead, each solo reflects the subject and mood of the poem. Sometimes the humor is obvious, as when after two poems using geographic imagery he plays a slightly sour rendition of “America”. Or after the poem with the line “I still find human babies menacing”, he intones a mocking bit of the Brahms lullaby. But these touches of slapstick are just a minor way in which he responds to Grossman’s words. Elsewhere he evokes insects or machinery or a column of compressed air. And on several cuts he lets loose flights of lyricism, which seem to be his most heartfelt statements. After the love poem “In the evening”, he rhapsodizes with a song built on quartal harmonies.

    That Vlatkovich is inspired by Grossman’s words is not at all surprising; she is an accomplished wordsmith. Each poem is a compact expression of whimsy and heartbreak. Some are little more than a dozen words long, yet their emotional resonance is deep. Grossman roots the poems in the every day—two are literally transcribed from the newspaper—yet they turn unexpectedly into the surreal. In one poem she explains what seems to be her aesthetic:

    “This poem is part cartoon
    and part injection.
    I hope it has the clarity of wind chimes
    Or the bloody sparkle of broken glass.”

    Grossman delivers this with an almost offhand, conversational tone, as if the words just trip off her tongue over the breakfast table. This seeming casualness belies the care with which the words are chosen and set into the lines, and the way her enunciation does justice to the well-crafted verse.

    She never overstates her ever-present wry humor, either in recitation or on the page. A number of brief, haiku-like poems are built around the character of “Henny Youngman”. One calls for putting “Henny Youngman” back in Christmas. The final one has Henny Youngman as a kind of post-modern Wee Willy Winky going about the town “just to make sure / we’re all watching enough TV”. She also plays lightly with irony as on this poem:

    “The poetry of children
    is that they just got here,
    so they’re still smooth
    as river rocks.”

    She doesn’t feel the need to point out that those rocks are smooth precisely from years and years of having the river wash over them. Such are the subtleties of her verse, echoed by Vlatkovich’s vivid statements, and taken together, a rare, deeply entertaining recital.”

    David Dupont, 15 December 2004, OneFinalNote.com

    I was not familiar with Ms. Grossman before this, but I have been impressed by Mr. Vlatkovich’s trombone playing on numerous recordings with Vinny Golia and other Nine Winds artists, plus Michael has his own label called Thank You. ‘Call and Response’ consists of some 35 tracks and even more poems than that. Dottie reads her short, thoughtful observations and Michael responds with short trombone solos that do comment on or at least continue a similar vibration that the poems have set up. I dig Dottie’s little poems, they are short, to the point and just make one observation at a time. Who else could write poems about Henny Youngman? Michael’s trombone playing is most often melodic and always tells a little story or vignette. There is nice calm vibe that runs throughout this quaint duo disc.

    – BLG, Downtown Music Gallery

    Dottie Grossman & Michael Vlatkovich – CALL AND RESPONSE: You’ll have to enjoy poetry to “like” this CD… Ms. Grossman’s poems, in this classic format, with her (usually) reading first, then Michael’s trombone as the “response” are indeed haunting. As you might expect, these are quite short pieces, none of them exceeding 3 minutes; but if you listen through the whole 35 pieces, it will all be “perfectly clear”. Those who have been reading this ‘zine for a few years will realize that I have a love affair with well-done poetry/music… this is more than “well done”, it’s perfect. Many CD’s done this way come off without letting th’ listener get deep inside the poetry… some kind of competition between th’ poet & th’ player, I think – but “Call and Response” is easy to get into, & brings th’ surreal home in a heartbeat. I enjoyed it thoroughly! One thing that makes the album stand out is that the spoken word all “makes sense”… & the improvised trombone adds to the feeling that this is “perfectly natural”, even though it’s (not at all) what you’d hear on your “regular” FM station. This is a true ” KEEPER”, & lovers of th’ power that well-done words & music have to change perceptions will agree with me when I declare this MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

    Dick Metcalf, aka Rotcod Zzaj
    Prime perpetrator & Incipient Instigator
    Zzaj Productions & Improvijazzation Nation
    http://www.homemademusic.com/~zzaj
    http://home.comcast.net/~rotcod

    Dottie Grossman calls out gently with 35 original poems, and Michael Vlatkovich responds quaintly with trombone language. Together, they form a unified body of work that proves interesting and creative. Grossman reads her poetry in a subdued manner, giving each stanza the same emphasis. They’re brief pieces of literature that are designed to spur the creative senses. Her topics range from where we’ve been to where we are going; it’s all a part of our daily lives.

    Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Halloween pumpkins. Skyscrapers and nearby canyons. Christmas Eve. Disneyland. Tarzan. Van Gogh. Texas, Nebraska, Mexico, Albuquerque, the Rio Grande. Pet cats. Huevos rancheros. These themes carry a close relationship to our daily lives. Let’s talk about whatever is on our minds. Grossman makes herself right at home. She gives us plenty to think about, and the lyrics are all printed in the accompanying liner notes.

    Vlatkovich communicates spontaneously with his performing partner. When she reads about hearing “Johnny Mercer on the radio,” he responds with a quote of “You Made Me Love You.” When she tells about her dreams involving Cary Grant, he replies with a mellow Glenn Miller salute. The dry humor of Henny Youngman is followed with the trombonist’s quiet laughing. Through his horn, he’s able to communicate every emotion.

    Grossman and Vlatkovich give us a free jazz session that inspires us and fires our imaginations. Our daily lives are filled with poetry in motion. We take it for granted. Recommended, Call And Response applies what’s on our minds to an outward form of communication that includes soulful improvisation.

    ~ Jim Santella , allaboutjazz.com

    The concept is simple. Call and Response: Thirty-five very short poems written and recited by Dottie Grossman and answered freely by trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. The text from each poem is printed in the accompanying booklet, and articulated on each track by Grossman in a deadpan voice, after which Vlatkovich comments musically. None of the tracks lasts three minutes, and several are under a minute. A typical (complete) poem: “In the dream of skyscrapers as paper dolls, each has its wardrobe of tenants that can be moved around forever.” Grossman’s voice is so flat and her words often so absurd that the project almost comes across as a big joke, but one in which the listener is a full participant. Vlatkovich is disarmingly clever on trombone, squeezing out his notes, flaunting his breath, using mutes and trills, and having a good time. He improvises with the words in mind: If the poem alludes to children, he inserts a children’s tune; if it is upbeat, so is he; if it references a horse, he neighs on the horn; and so on. Vlatkovich is critical to the project’s success because he infuses what are often (purposefully) mundane observations with technically impressive improvisations, resulting in something alluring and fascinating. His playing on trombone has improved dramatically through the years, and at the time of this recording he boasted a fully developed tone and technique. Grossman and Vlatkovich avoid the common pitfalls of poetry and jazz combinations: poor articulation; and the irrelevance of the music to the words. This one may begin as a curiosity, but any album that holds the interest of the listener for thirty-five poems with only a single accompanist is something worth exploring.

    Steven Loewy, AllMusic.com

    This is one of the strangest albums I have ever reviewed. It consists of 35 tracks [some tracks consist of more than one poem] of poems written and read by DOTTIE GROSSMAN and then a ‘response’ of trombone improvisations by MICHAEL VLATKOVICH. The responses clearly demand creativity and versatility and the sounds offered here range from soft muted notes to wild ‘rantings’ and ‘brayings’ all coming from a trombone! The album was recorded in real time and with no overdubs or edits. Definitely a very interesting experience. It should be part of every coffee house’s music library. And of special interest to students and fans of the trombone as well as those who like modern poetry.

    A. Canales, The Critical Review
    eyeear7@Hotmail.com

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