Canting, Sean Bonney, Gilad Atzmon

Posted by Ken Edwards on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 Under: writing
Last Thursday (2 April) was a great day for visiting London. The sun shone on an eerily quiet capital - commuters and, particularly, bankers appeared to have largely stayed away, greatly afeared of the imagined repercussions from the clash of G20 leaders and "protesters" of various stripes. In the event, there was no such clash on that day.

I had a day off to (a) have lunch with two of my soon-to-be-ex-colleagues, (b) lose a couple of intermediary hours browsing bookshops in Charing X Rd and bass guitars in Denmark St, and (c) make my way eventually to the Leather Exchange, London Bridge, to participate in the launch of ISPress's anthology The Canting Academy, described as "Reponses by contemporary innovative poets to a 16th century rogues' lexicon".

There are plenty of rogues and there's plenty of cant around these days. Business lingo: your key stakeholders, your blue sky thinking. The archaic criminal argot that inspires this intriguing collection is something more robust. I admit I was a little flummoxed at first when David Annwn invited me to take part, but the whole thing works rather grandly. I thought the standout performance was Sean Bonney; he's not in the anthology, but had been asked by Christine Kennedy to read the scatalogical monologue that snakes its way between her Tarot-like images of archetypal canters. It was a tour de force: slurring through portmanteau words, sliding into pure, incoherent sound, all deadpan as Buster Keaton, then coming right out to nail a cadence: "cantcatchme fuckthesurveillancesystem whatthey gonnafukindotome Iaintalready haddonetomeworse shit hell thatsthetruth". Glossolalia, the gift of tongues, "abnormal utterance under religious emotion", but in this case its converse, the intoxication of hell. And we know the devil has the best tunes.

Which kind of brings me to last night (6 April), when I had the privilege of hearing Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble at the Hastings Angling Club, an unlikely regular venue for some of the best jazz around. Atzmon's style is often glossolalic - his alto and clarinet solos build to a transportation of fractured scales then break off abruptly as the mouthpiece leaves his lips and he bounces - a big, burly man - across the stage, as though amazed by his own frenzy. Or he rocks up and down, shoulders hunched, eyes tight shut, or runs on the spot, or takes off the mouthpiece of the alto and howls through that, or blows the sax without the mouthpiece, or abandons blowing altogether and hollers incoherently before resuming.

You can hardly take your eyes or ears off this exiled Israeli, whether he's playing or telling bad jokes in a heavy accent or dissing his country's government, which he does frequently. But the band is superb too. it's been going ten years, and it shows. A shame that fellow Israeli exile, drummer Asaf Sirkis, is leaving - he must currently be among the best in the world. The third Israeli is the robust, rich bass player Yaron Stavi, and the sole Englishman, pianist Frank Harrison, apparently unassuming, launches into shimmering solos that fall off the edge of time and navigate back into a different groove with unsettling ease. This is a band that does seem to speak in tongues, and the tongues speak of the pure joy of music making. It's jazz, but you could call it poetry. Who cares?

In : writing 

Tags: "gilad atzmon" "sean bonney" canting poetry "christine kennedy" 
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Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at