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A Mumbai of the Mind by Katharine Oppenheim & Richard Cartwright

A Mumbai of the Mind is something of an experimental CD, melding the poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti with jazz and the music of India. The thing about experiments, though, is that they don't always work; if they did, I suppose we'd have to call them something else. To my ears, the results of this project by vocalist Katharine Oppenheim & saxophonist Richard Cartwright are not entirely satisfying. The elements assembled are all intriguing, but they don't always coalesce into something I want to listen to.

Recorded in both Mumbai & New York, selections from Beat poet Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind are read atop Indian percussion and alongside improvised melodies from Cartwright's sax. Beat poetry and jazz have a long tradition together--Jack Kerouac's collaborations with Steve Allen and Zoot Sims and Al Cohn are rightly considered classics--and the Beats were certainly interested in and influenced by Eastern traditions; it does seem like there should be some common ground.

The trouble is, I don't know how much the individual players are actually listening to each other. Too often, everybody including Oppenheim seems to be overplaying, pushing the envelope of intensity rather than allowing the poetry to breathe. Cartwright comes across the best, playing inventively in a style that recalls both cool jazz and the more R&B aspects of Ornette Coleman's work, but he gets caught up in the too-driving nature of the music which consistently obscures the meaning of the verse. When the rhythms are slowed down a bit there is room for the poetry to thrive, but those moments are too few and short-lived to have to pick through.

In the end, Raga simply proves a strange bedfellow for Beat jazz; the discipline needed for the one tramples somewhat on the freedom of the other. Nonetheless, this one was worth a go. That's the other thing about experiments; even if they don't work out, you can learn still learn something from them.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Katharine Oppenheim & Richard Cartwright
  • CD Title: A Mumbai of the Mind
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Harriton Carved Wax
  • Rating: Two Stars
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