Bass Cathedral

Overview

The Great American Jazz Novel by Nathaniel Mackey, winner of the 2006 National Book Award.
Los Angeles, October 1982: Molimo m'Atet, formerly known as the The Mystic Horn Society, is preparing to release its new album Orphic Bend. The members of the jazz ensemble?Aunt Nancy, Djamilaa, Drennette, Lambert, N., and Penguin?are witness to a strange occurrence: while listening to their test pressing, the moment Aunt Nancy's bass solo begins a balloon emerges from the vinyl, bearing a...

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Overview

The Great American Jazz Novel by Nathaniel Mackey, winner of the 2006 National Book Award.
Los Angeles, October 1982: Molimo m'Atet, formerly known as the The Mystic Horn Society, is preparing to release its new album Orphic Bend. The members of the jazz ensemble—Aunt Nancy, Djamilaa, Drennette, Lambert, N., and Penguin—are witness to a strange occurrence: while listening to their test pressing, the moment Aunt Nancy's bass solo begins a balloon emerges from the vinyl, bearing a mysterious message: I dreamt you were gone.... Through letters N. writes to a figure called Angel of Dust, the ever-mutating story unfolds, leaving no musician or listener untouched.Bass Cathedral is Mackey's fourth volume in his ongoing novel with no beginning or end, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Thought balloons morph into mute-stereoptic emanations; N. encounters a master mouthpiece-maker; Drennette leaves Penguin dateless; Lambert's kicking it around with Melanie—much is abuzz but something else is happening to the ensemble. The music seems to be living them. N. suffers cowrie shell attacks and they are all stranded on an Orphic Shore. Socio-political forces are at play or has this always been the essence and accident of the music's resilience? And Hotel Didjeridoo must be resurrected, but how? Myth spins music spins thought spins sex—Mackey's post-bop boxless box set is, as the Utne Reader wrote, "Avant-garde literature you can love: an evolving multivolume novel of the jazz world that plays with language and ideas the way Thelonious Monk plays with flatted fifths."

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Editorial Reviews

David Hajdu
Episodic, unpredictable, often self-referential and sometimes self-absorbed, Bass Cathedral is a virtuoso performance done for the glory of performing. The satisfaction Bass Cathedral provides is that of the moment. It feels, sentence to sentence and page to page, like a work in the act of being created. It is not simply writing about jazz, but writing as jazz…There is a cliche about music writing, sometimes attributed to Thelonious Monk, among others: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." If so, Nathaniel Mackey is compelled, rather than deterred, by the multiform madness of the enterprise. He is the Balanchine of the architecture dance.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In the fourth installment of this National Book Award-winning poet and novelist's ongoing epistolary work of fiction, Mackey (Splay Anthem) is never shy of the unwieldy or the recondite, plunging readers into the heady thoughts of N., narrating letter writer and member of the fictional early '80s jazz ensemble Molino m'Atet, who are releasing their first album, Orphic Bend. Like the plot points of Mackey's previous novels (which feature first concerts, new drummers and intra-band love triangles), the album release here serves mainly to trigger Mackey's singularly styled vamps on jazz and its mystical connotations. Mackey works in a kind of otherworldly reality, where recognizable situations quickly give way to the fanciful: the band, at one point, finds that cartoon speech balloons appear from the grooves of their album (as they appeared from the band's instruments in earlier installments), causing confusion among the band members and their fans. "I dreamt you were gone... " begin the balloons; from here, Mackey takes off into the wilds of abstraction and imagination. Less stridently avant-garde and more readable than its predecessors, this poetic novel is nonetheless dense and challenging. It may not be for everyone, but fans of Mackey's poetry, and of jazz, may find themselves right at home. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Nathaniel Mackey (b. 1942), is the author of books of poetry, fiction, and criticism, editor of the Literary Jounal Hambone, and radio show host. His collection, Splay Anthem, won the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry. He is also on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, and is Professor of Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

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