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Best Of Word Jazz

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Album Review

When voice-over master Ken Nordine released his first Word Jazz album, it created enough of a stir to justify a small string of sequels. The second release in the series (aptly titled Son of Word Jazz) hit just one year later. The formula this time out is pretty much the same, with Nordine delivering poetry over top of jazzy backing by the Fred Katz Group. There doesn't seem to be as much thought put into the sequel; though a number of moments are every bit as good as the material found on the first album, there's also a lot more meandering this time around, and some real puzzlers. For instance, "Outer Space" seems like it was half improvised, and there are some really awkward pauses; it's really just a showcase for sound effects put together by engineer Jim Cunningham. Further in, "Secretary" is a bit like a comedy sketch without a punch line, and "Bubble Gum" is almost a reprise of "Hunger Is From" but with bubble gum instead of a pile of food. The worst part is that many of the numbers aren't all that memorable, especially those on the second side. Thankfully, the really great tracks included on Son of Word Jazz make it worth your while. "Down the Drain" starts slowly but becomes an interesting thought piece in which you ooze down through the drain at the bottom of your tub and wind up emerging in the Caribbean. "Miss Cone" is a very clever piece about the geometry of love (and falling in love with someone who doesn't like the shape you're in). Strangest of all is the extremely upbeat "I Used to Think My Right Hand Was Uglier Than My Left," a riff on (of all things) self-mutilation. It's pretty obvious why not as many of the tracks here found their way onto the Nordine compilations: despite moments of brilliance, only a few of them connect on the same level as the tracks on the first album did. It's possible Nordine realized this before heading into the studio again, because the third album in the Word Jazz series, Next!, featured a new backing band and a slightly different direction.


Born: 13 April 1920 in Cherokee, IA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Most Americans are probably familiar with Ken Nordine, even if they don't know it. His rich, deep baritone graces numerous television and radio ads. His most creative work, however, is reserved for his "word jazz," which marries liquid, free-association ruminations with jazzy instrumental backing. Active in radio since the 1950s, he's recorded numerous albums and syndicated broadcasts, and has even collaborated with the Grateful Dead. Nordine got his start as a radio and television personality in...
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Best Of Word Jazz, Ken Nordine
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