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Beachland (self-released)

As good as this live album is, the overall effect is hard to discern, because its duration is too long and its motives are too unclear. A lengthy recording that stands in the shadow of Coltrane, Santana, and the Beat poets, this showcase for Drumplay percussionists James Onysko, Warren Levert, Joe Tomino, and guests (saxman-about-town Josh Smith and Cleveland poet Daniel Thompson) is beautifully recorded and nobly intentioned, but only intermittently successful. Its five tracks feature a relatively restrained Smith and the declamatory, frequently sensual poetry of Thompson. The first three cuts, recorded at the Beachland Ballroom, are laden with Thompson's Cleveland-centric imagery. The last two -- "Rivers (for Langston Hughes)," which is perhaps the album's strongest track, and the meandering "The Coast Is Clear" -- are more purely instrumental. These two songs, recorded at the Odeon, show how mesmerizing Drumplay can be.

The sounds are often beautiful, too. Thompson's poetry is diverse, spanning the witty "Car Talk" ("Keep your lips on the road," a lover tells Thompson during a carseat encounter), the florid "Desperate Characters," and "Train," a stilted name-check of literal and symbolic trains. But for whom are these musicians playing? Commercial potential aside, is there an audience for this outside of the converted? Radio airplay, let alone store sales, would seem remote possibilities, which isn't to say it lacks merit. No matter how sophisticated the beats are, Beachland doesn't resonate beyond technique and commitment.

More by Carlo Wolff


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