When Lisa Brimmer reads her poems on stage, she doesn’t just speak the words, she grooves – rhythm and meaning intertwined, delivered in apparently effortless alto cadences, punctuated by the occasional staccato of syncopated wordplay. Her spoken word performance style is already so musical, when you hear her read against the sounds created by her collaborative jazz cohort, High Society, word and music fit seamlessly into a natural pairing.
Brimmer is young yet, just in her twenties, but she’s already an accomplished poet and playwright: she was named a Givens Foundation of African American Literature fellow in 2009 and a Many Voices fellow at the Playwrights’ Center in 2010. She’s also published her poems in various literary magazines and staged a few plays around town since graduating from college in 2008. Actually, though, she came to my notice less for her publications and play-writing than for her work in less traditional outlets that speak to her penchant for creative cross-pollination: projects undertaken with dancers, visual artists and most often, jazz musicians.
For her latest venture, the “collaborative jazz ensemble” High Society, she’s gathered some of the Twin Cities’ best improvisers for a series of shows around the cities this summer: Chris Bates on bass, Cory Grossman on cello, Evan Montgomery on guitar, Greg Schutte at the drums, and Pete Hennig on auxiliary percussion and banjo, as well as a rotation of other semi-regulars and guest performers.
What High Society is doing isn’t about setting poetry to musical accompaniment. The partnering this ensemble is after feels more organic, more entangled and much more dynamic. Go to a gig and just listen to the musicians and Brimmer playing off each other, hear the responsiveness between them. The byplay is conversational, fluid. The marriage of forms here brings to light the music inherent in Brimmer’s spoken word just as it points to the grammatical symmetries undergirding the musicians’ back-and-forth play. (You can hear High Society, as recorded during a live show earlier this summer and broadcast in July on KFAI, embedded above.)
This Wednesday night, they’re adding a prominent visual artist, Ta-coumba Aiken, to the mix for a “one-time art installation” they’ve dubbed “Aesthetic Static,” combining improvised music, a batch of all-new poems from Brimmer and live drawing throughout the evening by Aiken. This week’s live show will be recorded for an upcoming broadcast on KBEM’s “Saint Paul Live” series.
In her blog, Brimmer describes her new pieces for the show this way: “The poems I intend to present are going to be triangulating beauty: as a myth, as a goal, as an object, as a tragedy, as a matter of the political/media/monster … [as] a rare thing.” In addition to the usual ensemble of performers mentioned above, this configuration of High Society will also feature Illicit Sextet’s Steve Kenny on trumpet.
“Aesthetic Static” by the collaborative jazz ensemble High Society will offer new poems by Lisa Brimmer and visual art, drawn live all night, by Ta-coumba Aiken; and improvisational music by Chris Bates (bass), Cory Grossman (cello), Pete Hennig (banjo, aux perc.), Steve Kenny (trumpet), Evan Montgomery (guitar) and Greg Schutte (drums). The show runs Wednesday, August 22, from 8-10 pm at Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in Lowertown, St. Paul, on the corner of 4th and Broadway. The performance will be recorded for KBEM’s “Saint Paul Live” radio series. For more information, visit blackdogstpaul.com/events/news-310.shtml.