THE BEAT GOES ON
On the Road to The Beat Generation
Featured in Tokyo and at the Mumbai Jazz Festival, The Beat Goes On is the musical project that led to Elisabetta Antonini winning the 2014 Top Jazz Award as The Best New Talent. It is a unique homage to The Beat Generation, the anti-conformist literary youth movement that developed in the United States during the fifties which included authors such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The album mirrors the ideas of these influential visionaries using original music and other works, ranging from Thelonious Monk to Bob Dylan. It features suggestive backgrounds comprised of written compositions, electronic and other special effects, sampling and moments of collective free improvisation, creating an atmosphere of countless contrasts. The recorded voices of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti have been utilized on most of the tracks and serve as the common thread throughout the whole work, making them the true protagonists of the cd, in a creative and original dialogue with the music.
In The Beat Goes On, Antonini is accompanied by some of Italy’s top talents, like Francesco Bearzatti (ten), Luca Mannutza (pn), Paolino Dalla Porta (bs), and Marcello Di Leonardo (drms). The innovative nature of the project and high level of musicianship give an international slant to the album, published by Alan Bates for his U.K-based label Candid Records, and distributed in Italy and the United States.
“I have just heard a fantastic recording honouring the Beat Generation and to say this recording is wonderful would definitely be an understatement. I’m thrilled that a group of beautiful young musicians have shown such tremendous depth and understanding for my heroes”.
Review by Enzo Pavoni, AUDIO REVIEW
After a long absence for some years now Candid has recommenced its activity by diversifying its production and placing its trust in offbeat projects like Elisabetta Antonini’s The Beat Goes On, who is the first musician in Italy to sign with this legendary label. It’s an intriguing concept but not without complications in which the singer puts some of the beat poets to music: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti. Antonini does a fine job of giving breathing space to these celebrated rhymes; she avoids suffocating them with pretentious heaviness, instead opting for a simple approach: the most frenetic swing bop, manipulations of sound and voice “as tasteful as they are effective”, altering her own voice, broadening her musical range. This explains the inclusion of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, Horace Silver’s Cookin’ at the Continental, Thelonious Monk’s Well you Needn’t and David Douglas’s Orujo.
The eight remaining tracks are originals which hold their own with the classics thanks to Elisabetta Antonini’s talent (vocals, electronic effects, compositions, arrangements) and her celebrated partners: The unique quality of The Beat Goes On lies in the convincing interplay between the authentic readings of the Beat poets which were extracted from old recordings that, in spite of the use of artifice sound like they come from the same session, and the instruments. Since it’s not possible to cover all the tracks we will limit ourselves to citing Ginsberg’s legendary Howl and above all to the moving Requiem for Bird Charlie Parker (Corso): Bearzatti’s vibrant, overdubbed horns lend support to Antonini, who dares to reach for vocal nuances which penetrate the soul. Highest respect.
Review by Francesco Peluso, FEDELTA’ DEL SUONO
After some significant productions in a minimalist style, singer and composer Elisabetta Antonini offers this intriguing and well-produced album, The Beat Goes On, which is dedicated to The Beat Generation poets and is accompanied by Francesco Bearzatti (tenor sax and clarinet), Luca Mannutza (piano), Paolino Dalla Porta (double bass), Marcello Di Leonardo (drums). For this talented Roman artist, Gregory Corso, Allan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti represent a starting point from which to propose an interweaving of anxiety, revolutionary thought and the lyrical transgression of these poets and the jazz of those years (Fifties / Sixties). With the perfect fusion between maudit poetry and delirious bebop the five protagonists of this work offer a collective interplay which, to say the least, is thrilling. Bearzatti’s exuberant and dynamic instrumental voice blends with Mannutza’s elegant softness, while Paolino Dalla Porta’s solid groove supports Marcello Di Leonardo’s imposing drumming, and the result is an ensemble of multiple formal nuances. With her singing the band leader expresses an artistic personality and breadth to which with refined vocals she adds the above-mentioned poets and the use of some electronic alchemy. From Horace Silver’s pyrotechnical Cookin’ at the Continental to the funky atmosphere of Antonini’s New York Blues, from the soft melodic line of On the Road to the west coast setting of the medley of Holy and Joni Mitchell’s beautiful Woodstock (U.S.A. poster child of pacifism), from the burning funeral accompaniment of Requiem for Bird Charlie Parker to the rarefied strains of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind which concludes the album, Elisabetta Antonini in The Beat Goes On gives us a slice of American history, bringing to light in an original way the lyrics and musical loves of that group of students that possessed visionary inspiration.
Interview by Roberto Paviglianiti, JAZZIT
What does TBGO represent in terms of your artistic evolution?
My involvement in this cd has been more emotional, more intimate. This work was a direct vehicle for me in which I could express my profound feelings as well as condense images, sound and meanings which are more urgent and personal to me. In this way, it was a more mature artistic phase in that it was more sincere.
Why did you decide to pay homage to The Beat Generation?
I was excited by the idea of dedicating myself to a project that translated the 1950’s in the United States into musical terms, embracing the personal stories of the protagonists of the Beat Generation. I think that even today they express and exalt freedom and human dignity in a brilliant, vital and profound way. What’s more, the Beats used to read their poetry to the accompaniment of jazz which best captured the rhythm of their words.
What are the traits which best express the cd?
This is a “concept album” in which I open the windows onto the themes, atmosphere and setting of the Beats, giving a musical form to what struck and moved me on the written page. Instead of paying homage to them by resorting to the bop repertoire that was so dear to them I above all felt the need to write my own music in order to give back my own emotional experience when I was reading them. However, the most characteristic trait of the project is the way in which I selected and recomposed acoustically the voices of those very Beats and adapted them to music; audio extracts from that period have been rearranged with the precise intention of looking for a real situation, relocating them into what I imagined was their story, their film, because I wanted to give a musical voice to all the expressive force of those words.
You also played an important role in the arrangements of the cd.
Yes, in every one of my projects I always try to create a world, to suggest an emotional climate, an intensity of light that represents the key characteristic of the work which moves me most. This effort manifests itself in precise aesthetic choices which I want to embrace in relation to the timber and organic characteristics that I want to use in addition to the compositional solutions I decided to make use of while arranging the material. I am not able to see myself only as a singer but more as a director who guides the protagonists to whom, in following my own taste, I trust the story which must be told.
What is the basic idea behind the original compositions?
I began with the evocative force of the poems and the imagery they inspired in me as if I had been called to write the musical comment.
On the back of the cover, there’s a complimentary comment by Sheila Jordan.
She’s one of the most authentic voices in the world of jazz with a unique style which is sincere and extremely powerful. She grew up among the boppers; she loved that strange music and learned to appreciate it at a deep level, finding in it her own original and unmistakable language; so it seemed natural to me that I asked her to listen to the recording. Any comment from her would have been an honour but I never expected to receive a personal phone call in which she said she had been struck by the originality and passion of the work as well as the knowledge I showed in relation to jazz and its heroes.
Review by Roberto Paviglianiti, JAZZIT
Elisabetta Antonini’s voice lies at the centre of the expressive discourse of The Beat Goes On: it reveals an instinctive, creative and repeated use of scat; in some passages, her voice makes itself harsh and dissonant while at other moments often provides hummable melodies. A group of worthy musicians work with her in a sequence of tracks where the listener encounters original compositions as well as rearrangements which are consistent with the concept of the Beat Generation around which the entire work revolves. The album assumes very stylistic forms, passing from moments that have a bluesy taste to ballads, from bop arrangements to electronic music. Everything has been conceived and arranged by the leader who has also inserted the recorded voices of some of the Beat protagonists such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, going beyond stereotypes to create a personal vision (…). The aesthetic aspects of the album are delineated through a careful selection of literary material which has been transformed into music and the final result reflects the consistency of artistic intention.
From an article by Luca Conti, MUSICA JAZZ
This year the Gian Mario Maletto Award “…goes to Elisabetta Antonini, an accomplished singer the recognition of whom will only surprise those who in the course of the years have not followed her notable artistic evolution and maturity.“
Interview by Paolo Odello, MUSICA JAZZ
Here is the spirit of freedom of the Beat Generation.
Winner of the Top Jazz Poll for Best New Talent, the singer tells us how such an original album was born.
Singer and bandleader, arranger and composer, who grew up musically between Europe and the United States, Elisabetta Antonini alternates concerts and teaching and undertakes refined and original paths, paying particular attention to the by now classic pages of today’s jazz and the composition of new works in addition to embarking on other approaches and languages. So there is the taste of chamber music jazz of the trio Un Minuto Dopo, the rarefied atmosphere of contemporary jazz of the Harp&Voice Nuance Duo and the quartet album The Beat Goes On, dedicated to the Beat Generation.
How did The Beat Goes On come into being?
From the desire to pay homage to sublime forms of poetry and prose which are very close to jazz and to the spirit of freedom that inspires and nurtures this music; and above all from the desire to reread Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti and to borrow the evocative force of their words and through music to call to mind the images, light and atmosphere of that particular style of storytelling. The idea emerged from an evening dedicated to Fernanda Pivano and to her role as an unusual intellectual. In organizing that concert I tried to evoke the complexity and depth by setting literary passages to music and deepening as much as possible the knowledge of her work. At the end it was natural for me and even necessary to concentrate on the history of those poets that she had translated and encountered; I enhanced the nature the text I already knew and then decided to articulate a musical project about them.
Why exactly the Beat Generation?
As I said I went back and read them and I believe that their message is as revolutionary and as iconoclastic today as it was then. With their words and their dramatic and disconcerting lives they provided an example, a more profound sense of such concepts as freedom and human dignity. Accused of homosexuality, of harboring communist sympathies as well being anti-military and Jewish, they were rebels in the true sense of the word but who in any case were harbingers of the American counterculture, asking questions and expressing themes that had until then being banned by the social and political system. Paraphrasing Ferlinghetti’s words who was a poet but above all the editor of their poems, the Beat Generation showed a way that was different and yet possible and far from conventional thought and which avoided the deadening flatness created by consumerism which today as then we must all endure.
Poems, novels, thousands of words: an imposing heritage. How did you manage to transform it all into music without resorting to cliché?
First and foremost there had to be the Beat Generation, a world that was still able to capture us with the force of their words, their poetry. I knew that the project would make sense only if I used the literary material but I wanted to beyond the superficial blending of poetry and music: I wanted to tell and describe the journey through the settings and the atmosphere that was imagined through reading those words. The idea had a precise form. The only problem that remained was how to get there, which passages to extract from so much available material, and whether to proceed by translating their works into Italian or to use the original language, whether to insert recited pieces and whether, in that case, I should recite them or have an actor do it. Suddenly everything became clear: I started to write original music to their words and felt the need to also use their voices (selecting and editing audio recordings from that period) so that they would result as even more powerful. The Beats often performed readings: I decided to follow the same path in order to embark on a more personal approach. I rethought and amplified the sense of their words almost creating new poems and transforming those voices into an instrument among other instruments, which at times became rap, then “off screen” voices, prayers and howling. At that point I needed to find the right traveling companions. Creative musicians interested in a work that goes beyond the musical aspects; through that very language which is jazz I tried to suggest an image, a sensation, a scene. Finding these things was for me the easiest aspect in the production of this album. Engaging Luca at the piano, Paolo at the doublebass, Marcello on the drums and Francesco at tenor sax and clarinet I knew I could count on solid mainstream musicians who could provide the stylistic vocabulary which is typical of jazz and necessary to this project in that the Beats became fans of bebop which is classical jazz today but was then avant-garde music. I also knew that I could obtain an additional series of expressive shadings in line with the themes of the Beat Generation: the frenzy of the journey, the ecstasy arrived at through hallucinatory, drug induced states, the contemplative mysticism, the exaltation given by jazz and its protagonists, to only cite a few. I knew that in their sensitivity they would never permit the music, already rich in sound and rhythm, to overpower the words, and that the project on the whole could maintain in spite of the variety of the material I wrote a homogeneity: the tracks were as much inspired by the bebop hyperbole as by the west coast melody, by the coral nature of old funeral elegies, by the vertiginous perception after having taken acid. I thank these artists for the moments of great lyricism and for their frenetic and furious passages which they enriched my work.
What is jazz for you?
Above all it is music, the language with which I feel able to express my sensitivity, my contradictions, my darker self, my way of looking at the world; I live, think, feel and listen as if I exist in a universe which is free of confines and definitions. Jazz is born out of contamination, which is not globalization but on the contrary is a meeting point and synthesis of roles and different personalities who are strong and yet in a reciprocal relation as well as a dialectic one. For this is more than a genre, more than only one style. It’s a way of facing life, an approach to things and I believe that this is the very essence that the Beats grasped and reached in themselves, a real and raging fever.
And now what’s in your future?
Luckily I don’t know yet. At the moment I am living in that strange phase where I can enjoy what this intense work has given back to me in which a great deal of myself is expressed and revealed; at the same time I am looking for that creative emptiness which is necessary before I can direct myself towards a new horizon.
Review by Lorenzo Viganò, SETTE (weekly supplement to CORRIERE DELLA SERA)
That force which blends notes and texts
It’s more than homage: it’s a real concept album which takes the world, the language, the works, the voices, the transcriptions, the atmosphere and the themes of the Beat Generation and elaborates them, transforming them without ever betraying them. It updates them, it makes them live again, revealing the hidden aspects which have either never been expressed or have been forgotten. It interprets them. You already understand this from the title, The Beat Goes On, which from that literary current explicitly declares the modernity, vitality and historical and cultural need not to forget it. It is confirmed by the thirteen tracks on which Elisabetta Antonini, singer and composer, accompanies the listener in an “on the road” trip in terms of time and the American movement of the 1950’s, through bebop, poetry, protest songs and improvisation. There’s no nostalgia here. Every track (composed, sung and arranged by Antonini) is an elaboration upon the writings of these poets, interweaving voices and readings into scat (for example Jack Kerouac in Cookin’ at the Continental composed by Horace Silver or Allen Ginsberg in the celebrated Howl composed by Antonini); or else she expresses their essence through her singing, as in Gregory Corso’s For Miles and Kerouac’s On the Road. The result is hypnotic and powerful and brings out the musicality of the lyrics and the readings (similar to jazz solo improv) amalgamating her voice (backed up by Luca Mannutza at the piano, Paolino Dalla Porta on double-bass, Marcello Di Leonardo on the drums and Francesco Bearzatti on saxophone). The idea which emerged from an evening in tribute to Fernanda Pivano works very well also as an album. At the moment in which Elisabetta Antonini in perfect sync with the Beat Generation applies the literary cut-up technique made famous by Burroughs to her compositions, cutting and recomposing fragments of composition of the individual musicians.