John Sinclair - legend! He was the 60s in a nutshell: cultural revolutionary, manager of the MC5, founder of the White Panther Party, subject of a John Lennon protest song after being imprisoned on drugs offences (part of The Man’s crushing of anything countercultural), poet, broadcaster on Radio Free Amsterdam – but he was really a child of the 50s. His great book Guitar Army includes dedications to people like Coltrane, Ayler, Dolphy and Kerouac, and those influences are still reflected in Mohawk, essential a 50s-tributing beatnik jazz record. As ‘Carolina Moon’ explains, it was conceived in 1982 after hearing of the death of Thelonius Monk, and recorded in Amsterdam much more recently. Sinclair’s spoken word lyrics are meditations on Monk and lots of other jazz sessions from the 50s, “when Bird, and Diz and Monk made it all happen” (‘Bloomdido’) set to louche be-bop backing from Steve The Fly (who tries to utilise the original titles or tempos of songs by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Monk).
It’s a labour of love for Sinclair, reworking beat poems he’s been developing for decades, while Steve The Fly’s arrangements try to break the mould by incorporating a little scratching, tape manipulation and glitchy electronic effects. It has a certain historical and cultural interest but it’s really only worth a toke if you’re a jazzbo (it will blow the berets off the Café Oto-nians for sure), although ‘My Melancholy Baby’ – a tribute to New Orleans documentarian Stevenson J. Palfi – has a general, swampy charm.