The widow of American Beat poet Michael McClure asked experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser and poet-songwriter-environmentalist Michael Rothenberg to perform together at a McClure Memorial in 2021. It was the first time ever that Kaiser and Rothenberg played together, but since they enjoyed the experience they decided to record on the same week, live at the studio 9/22/33 at Megasonic, Oakland. Kaiser’s wife, painter Brandy Gale did the cover art.
Kaiser is known also as an ethnomusicologist and film score composer. He participated in many free improvised and experimental meetings since the ’70s and his idiosyncratic guitar playing can be heard on recordings with David Lindley, John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Fred Frith, Richard Thompson, John Zorn, Tisziji Munoz, and Wadada Leo Smith (in the Yo Miles! band), and the Rova Saxophone Quartet. Rothenberg, who cofounded Big Bridge Press that published, among others the poetry of McClure, passed away in November 2022.
Lions & Fireflies offers Rothenberg’s 13 Beat poems, delivered in a warm and thoughtful but unassuming voice, with the spontaneous improvisations of Kaiser on acoustic and electric guitars, resonating and reflecting beautifully Rothenberg’s calm phrasing. The guitar improvisations flow freely between folk, blues and more edgy and experimental terrains. Rothenberg’s poetry suggests insightful observations about our dark and despairing world, with its apocalyptic, environmental vandalism, toxic narcissism, racism and xenophobia, but insists that “poetry matters”, and on a compassionate perspective on life, and does so with great honesty, irony and commanding beauty.
Henry Kaiser (ac.g, el.g), Michael Rothenberg (poetry)