Poetry comes alive with Eric Mingus and The Langston Hughes Project

Writer Langston Hughes, besides being one of the key figures of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance movement, was renowned for his involvement in the jazz world. His poems, which use repetition, syncopated rhythms and earthy African-American lingo, is often described as jazz poetry.

Jazz guitarist Larry Simon, who founded Jazzmouth, a jazz/spoken word festival in New Hampshire, has brought together some illustrious names for this showcase of Hughes' work. Eric Mingus, son of jazz bassist Charles, delivers Hughes' words in a rich, resonant voice that ranges from a blue-collar Joe persona in Neighbor and Ma Lord, to the ringing orator, with shades of Martin Luther King Jr, in Democracy.

Composer/pianist David Amram offers tender accompaniment and his improvised, conversational duets with Mingus are some of the most lyrical moments on this album.

One stand-out is the opening track, Weary Blues, in which Amram's balladic introduction provides the perfect melodic match to Mingus' reading of the opening lines: "Droning a drowsy syncopated tune/Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon/I heard a Negro play." Mingus' easy segue into crooning mid-poem highlights Hughes' deep jazz influences.



    Eric Mingus & The Langston Hughes Project/ Mode Records

    5/5 stars

In poems such as Sylvester's Dying Bed, Hughes' vivid evocation of African-American life is brought to life by Mingus' easy story-telling style. Hughes' plain-spoken lines transcend time and culture, depicting African-American life in minimal sketches that are the poetic equivalents of an Edward Hopper painting.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Poetry comes alive'. Print Edition | Subscribe