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Jerome KITZKE (b. 1955)
The Green Automobile (2000) [8:30]
The Paha Sapa Give-Back (1993) [15:01]
Winter Count (2008) [37:28]
Jerome Kitzke (speaking pianist, The Green Automobile), The Mad Coyote (The Paha Sapa Give-Back), Jennifer Kathryn Marshall (actor/vocals), Barbara Merjan (bass drum/vocals), ETHEL (Winter Count)
rec. 28 April 2012, University of California San Diego (The Green Automobile), 21-22 August 2013, (The Paha Sapa Give-Back) and 10-11 October 2013 (Winter Count), Kaleidoscope Sound, Union City, NJ
INNOVA 891 [61:02]

Jerome Kitzke is introduced "as much a storyteller as a composer" in the booklet notes, and he is certainly acutely in tune with Allen Ginsberg's text for The Green Automobile. This is a tour de force but great fun, with plenty of manic jazz inflections and fragments of walking bass to go along with moments of reflective atmosphere and frantic improvisatory playing and following of word-rhythms. Described as "a freewheeling musical account" of Ginsberg's 1953 poem, Kitzke turns the piece into a superbly energetic and highly contrasting work of music theatre, but theatre of the mind rather than something you would instantly think of as a stage work. Clever puppetry or animation might do the trick, but events and switches in mood occur so quickly that a visualisation would run the risk of coming a clumsy second to the music.
 
The Paha Sapa Give-back is a heartfelt "exhortation to pay attention to and act upon the sovereignty and sacred land claim issues of the world's indigenous peoples." The specific tale of Paha Sapa, the Black Hills regarded as "the heart of everything that is" by the Lakota people, is a tragic one of violence, the breaking of agreements and frustration in the courts. Kitzke expresses this with tribal drums, cries and stabbing piano chords in a piece which exudes anger and a sense of immovable resistance. Kitzke has visited this subject before, and The Paha Sapa Give-Back is one of four pieces which together form a large theatrical work. He acknowledges the influence of Northern Plains Indian Music in the piece, but none of the melodic or formal elements are direct quotes. In essence this has aspects of a sort of tribal minimalism, but there are plenty of layers offering food for thought, from the tracts of ethnic rhythmic pounding to the use of snare drums which might refer to the antagonism between cultures.
 
The title Winter Count refers to "the passage of time from one summer to the next [being] marked by noting a single memorable event." It is described as an anti-war work, using emotionally charged poetry from the likes of Aeschylus to Harold Pinter and Walt Whitman to express the nightmares of war through the ages. The wide-ranging vocals of Jennifer Kathryn Marshall and Barbara Merjan have a huge impact of course, but their synergy with the violence and melancholy contrasts of the string quartet amplified by a bass drum creates some striking effects and holds our attention throughout. Having heard this and followed the text you are sure to emerge "sadder and wiser", from the opening words, "The first casualty of was is Truth", to the sublime musical simplicity which accompanies the final ".pondering the themes thou lovest best, Night, sleep, death and the stars."
 
All of the texts are printed in the booklet for this release. This is a CD with something to say, and it says it very well indeed. A bit like those cunning street acts which tempt you in with comedy and then deliver a more serious message, we are softened up by The Green Automobile before being clobbered by injustice and the sufferings of war, but with the quality and sincerity on offer here I am happy to go along with the journey on which Kitzke takes us.
 
Dominy Clements