On page 234 of Matéria de Poesia from Gramática Expositiva do Chão (Poesia quase toda) almost certainly his greatest work, the Brasilian poet Manoel de Barros (1916 – 2014) wrote “Faz muito calor durante a dia. Sobre a tarde cigarras destarracham. De noite ninguém consugue parar. Chuva que anda por vir está se arrumando no bojo das nuvens. Passarinho já compreendeu, Está quieto no galho. Os bichos de luz assanharam. Mariposas cobrem as lâmpadas. Entram na roupa. Batem tontas nos móveis. Suor escorre no rosto…” (“During the day it is very hot. Cicadas whine through the afternoon. At night everyone is restless. Rain is swelling in the clouds. Bird knows all about it, stays quiet on the branch. Light-loving insects are frantic. Moths swarm over lampshades, invade our clothes, crash dizzily against the furniture. Sweat trickles down and the face.”) On page 235 later de Barros writes: “Caem os primeiros pingos. Perfume de terra molhada invade a fazenda. O jardim está pensando…em florescer”. (“The first drops fall. The fragrance of wet soil pervades the ranch. The garden is thinking … of blooming”).
Somehow those lines from Descriptive Grammar of the Ground (almost complete poems seem wholly appropriate to bear in mind – and even read – when listening to Dirt In The Ground from Aaron Shragge’s Innocent When You Dream. The naked and unblemished ululations of his trumpet – the dragon mouth trumpet – and the cloudy billowing of air that escapes the shakuhachi (flute) not only conjure all of the imagism of Manoel de Barros’ poetry, but the natural festivities of the burbling earth and the steaming air above it seems to come to life. The other conjuring in this magical act is that the music rises like a new velvet curtain on the drama of Tom Waits and his own acts of faith, hope and contrition as he surveyed the world around him with the immensity of the child’s eye. Your room is no longer filled merely with music but also with a myriad of creatures awakened by the enchantment of Shragge’s trumpet, Jonathan Lindhorst’s tenor saxophone, Ryan Butler’s – and more poignantly, Joe Grass’ dizzy, howling – guitars. Meanwhile the fibrillating drumsticks and the toady bellow of the bass keep the tableau from levitating and disappearing in a pouf of smoke.
Something is lost without Tom Waits’ and – especially – Kathleen Brennen’s magical lyrics; perhaps a little more than was intended. However, there is no mistaking the nudity of feeling that is de rigueur in the music of Tom Waits (and his ever-so-talented) wife Kathleen Brennen. This ought hardly to be unexpected as the re-imagining of Waits/Brennen’s music in their instrumental incarnations was a conscious one. And it is here that Shragge’s genius takes flight most vividly. The almost warbling “singing and sobbing” of the trumpet and saxophone, and the raw screech-owl cries of the guitar and pedal-steel guitar comes viscerally-alive as the rustling of leaves burnt by the sun and the scratching and scampering creatures in Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennen’s narratives. And it is in these frequently magical moments that this music soars, unfettered…
Track List: 1: Chicago; 2: All the World Is Green; 3: Dirt in the Ground; 4: Down in the Hole; 5: Ol ’55; 6: Hang on St. Christopher; 7: The Briar and the Rose; 8: Temptation; 9: In the Neighbourhood; 10: Anywhere I Lay My Head; 11: You Can Never Hold Back Spring
Personnel: Aaron Shragge: dragon mouth trumpet; shakuhachi; Jonathan Lindhorst: tenor saxophone; Ryan Butler: guitar; Nico Dawn: drums; Dan Fortin: bass; Joe Grass: pedal steel guitar (1, 2 & 4)