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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Book Review: Joseph Jarman - Black Case Volume I & II: Return from Exile

(Review by Russell)

Joseph Jarman first compiled a spiral-bound version of Black Case Volume I & II in 1974. Three years later an expanded edition was published by Art Ensemble of Chicago Publishing Co.. Now, some twelve months after the death of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's saxophonist, composer, poet and member of the AACM, a reprint, with a new preface by Thulani Davis and an introduction by Brent Hayes Edwards, has been made available by Blank Forms Editions and After : Still.   

Poetry, prose and photographs from 1960 through to the mid-seventies chart Jarman's global travels and development as an artist. Principally known as a member of the feted Art Ensemble of Chicago, Black Case Volume I & II is a welcome addition to the literature of the Black Arts Movement. Multi-instrumentalist Jarman offers an insight to his childhood years on Chicago's South Side; racism, urban alienation and fishing trips with his father.  

In his early twenties Jarman wound up in Texas. In Volume I Jarman writes: El Paso - spring 1959 - i arrive on the hot summer Greyhound from the East, full of dust and silence. High off - pills, smack, other deadly joys, mute, silent and motionless. A page of poetry, a page of prose, perhaps a photograph, Jarman committed words to paper as the spirit took him; on one page socio-political comment: BLACK MUSIC IS BLACK MUSIC and always will be, on another page spiritual or religious thought is offered: do not fight life, rather live it freely/this is the message of GREAT BLACK MUSIC embrace it and sing-you will feel better and you will learn through your own life to praise GOD

Service in the US military during the 1950s appeared to have had a profound effect on Jarman. Traumatised by military (mis)adventure in Asia (sustaining a severe leg injury) a transfer to an army band based in Germany (acquiring an alto saxophone along the way) proved to be a better option. In his excellent introduction to this new edition Brent Hayes Edwards recounts Jarman telling music historian Paul Steinbeck that 'El Paso' (much of Jarman's poetry was untitled) was a first attempt at writing poetry. In a few short years the Art Ensemble of Chicago would become the perfect platform for his literary talents. 

The Art Ensemble's penchant for theatrical costume, surrealist pranks, poetry and, of course, music, nurtured Joseph Jarman's creativity for several decades (not withstanding a sabbatical to study Buddhism and aikido). The full title of Jarman's book - Black Case Volume I & II Return from Exile - points to the author's spiritual journey from self-imposed exile (Brent Hayes Edwards calls it 'internal alienation') from the supposed 'real' world. 

Those lucky enough to have witnessed Jarman in full flow with the Art Ensemble of Chicago will, no doubt, have fond memories. In her preface to this new edition of Black Case I & II Thulani Davis recalls first visiting Jarman's home: The first time I visited Joseph he was listening to Jimmy Cliff and Sidney Bechet. He played me 78s of Charlie Parker. Just life as it should be, it seemed.                   
Russell
  
Black Case Volume I & II: Return from Exile by Joseph Jarman is published by Blank Forms Editions (Brooklyn, NY) and After : Still (Madison, WI)ISBN: 978-1-7337235-3-4 

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