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Word Jazz Album of the Week
Marc Weidenbaum

Listeners unprepared for the new album by the jazz trio Courage, 'The Way Out Is Via The Door' (482 Music), may be startled -- not just by the light synthesized auras that fill out some of the otherwise acoustic tracks; not just by the slow-burn sense of ensemble produced by Courage members Steve Swallow (bass), Chris Massey (drums) and John Mills (everything else, which includes saxophone, clarinet, flute and those atmosphere-laden keyboards); not just by a cover of the chestnut "Inchworm," which closes the record with coy humor; and not just by the presence on the album of esteemed poet Robert Creeley. What's particularly startling is the way Creeley appears. He often arrives late in a given tune, long after the band has had time to establish musical themes and a particular mood. On the album's second cut ("I Dreamt I Dwelt ..."), three and a half minutes pass before we hear the quavering voice of Creeley, at 76 one of America's national literary treasures. His words don't break the spell so much as recast it -- what sounded atmospheric and reflective becomes a little paranoid, as Creeley reads, "I dreamt I dwelt in a big building ... bars in front and behind / Nothing on my mind." His voice is sad, like that of someone who has recently cried, and that sadness imbues the words with weight, even though the voice itself is fragile. He shows up on "What's Gone Is Gone" after a minute and a half, filling small gaps between Mills's horn phrases with words (or perhaps vice versa). The band doesn't back Creeley up, so much as play their varied music -- the ritual drumming of "Blood in Spirit," the echoes of Mills' horn on "Uncantation," Swallow's extended solo on "Signs of Life" -- and, when appropriate, summon the poet, whose brief recitations are like omniscient narration in a beautiful but otherwise silent and abstract film.

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