Ted King and the Eighty-Sixed
Close to the Cool
The cool that Minneapolis poet Ted King aims for is ineffable, ethereal, and eternal, but his album ends up at a rather more concrete place, say a San Francisco basement club that had its best night in the summer of '59, when Lenny Bruce and Zoot Sims just happened to stop in, a jam session materialized without coaxing, everyone was together in their fancy-tasting artichokes, and nine months later six beautiful babies named Sphere were born. On this self-produced CD, King is backed by local notables such as tenor man Bill Lang, upright bassist Tom Lewis, accordion ace Dan Newton, and bongo virtuoso Maynard G. Krebs (no, no—it's Joe Steinger on bongos). The resulting "Neo-Beat" rambles belong to the literally and figuratively unsung tradition of talking jazz, and carry a special debt to storyteller/poet/voiceover genius Ken Nordine's word-jazz series. By the way, folks, buy a Ken Nordine album.
Like any self-respecting bohemian with a few years under his black, non-designer belt, Lewis, his poetic persona at least, is disdainful of materialism, suspicious of technology, hoarse from smoking, and about as cranky as he is romantic, the world being a cranky-making place for romantics. On the self-defining "Like That," King, spurred by brush-wielding drummer Stuart Devaan, endorses depth, sunsets, free beer, and fooling around with his baby. "But I don't like it when people think I'm s'posed to be impressed," he says in an a half Nordine/half Waits purr, "with the car they drive, the way they're dressed. It's boring and I don't like that. It's really boring, and I don't like that." True enough, unless it's a really hot car. King generally fends off bourgeois boredom with more self-deprecating charm ("I started out in philosophy, now I'm down to this smarmy poetry") than originality, but sometimes a charming throwback is just the ticket, and when the words don't grab you, the jazz leaps in to pick up the slack.