JOEL CHACE Reviews
Selected Improvisations by Vernon Frazer
(Beneath the Underground, 2015)
Lines. To cross over.
In his new Selected Improvisations, Vernon Frazer makes a case for all kinds of lines and how to cross them. This complex, multi-directional collection dares a reviewer to produce a comprehensive commentary. So I have chosen to trace only a few lines.
Here is the first page of the book (click on all images to enlarge):
If you have never seen -- and I do mean seen as well as heard-- a Cecil Taylor performance, you should do so, post haste. Thanks to the internet, you can, readily. The experience should be unique, transformative. Taylor attacks the keyboard, plunging, jabbing, though at times caressing; “attacks,” then, in this case, carries no connotations of violence, but rather those of concentrated probing and study. The pianist once indicated that his technique was intended to imitate the leaps and spaces that dancers make.
Thus it is no surprise that Frazer acknowledges Taylor as one of his muses. I like to imagine this poet at his computer keyboard composing these pages with remarkably similar pianistic moves. To play, compose, write, in such a manner requires crossing lines, blasting boundaries, not giving a rat’s ass about critical or public reception. Integrity and courage, in other words.
Yes, motifs, echoes, transformations, you will find them all in this collection. Here is page 27:
Note that it begins with a vertical line and ends with one that’s horizontal. Frazer argues that whatever direction lines take, the artist must transgress them, and without guilt, regret, or apology, “over the mean realities that remain unwritten.” “—off & out.”
A horizontal line and then a vertical. And one of several references to “Gloucester.” Of course, Charles Olson, given, “moves the field/composition as/process.” Every one of Frazer’s pages is a field composition and in ways that Olson had probably foreseen but had never created. But then there’s King Lear’s Gloucester, who gains his true sight only after he is blinded. That Gloucester, Tiresias, Homer. who all viewed the large, true world, who crossed any lines they came to because they were blessed to ignore them, who -- like Vernon Frazer -- could splay veracity all over the blessed place.
This book is Selected... because it is a superbly wise sampling from Frazer’s gigantic, tumultuous, epic Improvisations. Buy and study Selected... Then continue to enlarge your mind and your heart by purchasing the complete Improvisations from Beneath the Underground.
Joel Chace has published work in print and electronic magazines such as, The Tip of the Knife, Counterexample Poetics, OR, Country Music, Infinity's Kitchen, and Jacket. Most recent collections include Sharpsburg, from Cy Gist Press, Blake's Tree, from Blue & Yellow Dog Press, Whole Cloth, from Avantacular Press, Red Power, from Quarter After Press, Kansoz, from Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press, and Web Too, from Tonerworks.