Lisa Marie Simmon’s NoteSpeak 12 Perfectly Fuses Poetry and Jazz [REVIEW]

I first interviewed poet, composer, and jazz singer Lisa Marie Simmons on Season 1 of the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast about her unique ability to interleave spoken worth poetry with jazz. Simmons, with her partner jazz pianist Marco Cremaschini, recently released NoteSpeak 12 on Bandcamp and Ropeadope.

It’s all a balancing act though, isn’t it? Especially when you’re trying to write with music, we want to make sure that they’re really intricately entwined, not just ‘this is a poem and here’s some music’.

Lisa Marie Simmons from the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast interview

Notespeak 12 exquisitely achieves this balance, interleaving spoken word over a rich collage of jazz, words sung when the lyric demands and spoken with rhythmic urgency when the poetry demands. This isn’t an album of jazz and spoken work as separate alternating voices, but an album where a jazz hybrid of dodecaphony and AfroBeat, and spoken word poetry, fuse to create something new.

In DownBeat Magazine’s 5-star review of NoteSpeak 12 they note, “As with her previous efforts with the NoteSpeak ensemble, Simmons flows freely between singing and speaking/reciting, blurring the lines between poetry and music.” The twelve tracks that comprise NoteSpeak 12 are fun, playful, and also tackle head on complex social issues (without browbeating the listener). “The Last Supper”, in particular, powerfully tells the story of last meals for the wrongly convicted, drawing on real stories without losing the poetry or the jazz underpinning while telling the story, “the innocent, the guilty, sat up on the block // murder fought with murder, tick tick tock”. The inquisitive listener will dig deeper into the stories being told.

Even if I’m writing a poem that’s going to stand alone there’s an internal rhythm. When I’m not writing with music or I’m working on a very specific structure, I’m finding my rhythm. When I’m working with music I want the echo of the words to be in the music, and vice versa. The music that Marco writes could stand alone and my poetry could stand alone, but they are exponentially greater when entwined.

Lisa Marie Simmons from the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast interview

But twelve goes beyond the number of tracks, as per Simmons, the music of NoteSpeak 12. The number “12” has a connection to creativity, empathy, and unity around the world. 12 is a mysterious, ubiquitous number: the basis of our system of measurement and of time, in Norse mythology Odin had 12 sons, 12 signs in the zodiac, 12 main Gods in Greek mythology, 12 disciples of Christ, 12 Imams in the Islam religion, 12 tribes of Israel, the Sun God Surya in Hinduism has 12 names, 12 pairs of ribs in the human body, 12 jurors, and so many more references beyond coincidence.

As I listen and re-listen to NoteSpeak 12 I’m drawn to this album, more than a collection of singles. This is not an album to be shuffled or chopped up, but listened to end-to-end, from one to twelve, again and again.

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