SPIRIT: A TRIBUTE TO JACK KEROUAC, David Amram, Lawrence Carradini, LCK! guest performers, Lowell Mass 01)

There is an entire institution built up around the celebration of Jack Kerouac in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts -- Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK!) by name -- a group which has become adept at sponsoring festivals, birthday celebrations, and which has put together a website and a host of other activities and programs. Now LCK! has gathered together a musical and poetic tribute to Jack on CD, featuring estimable local and national talent and led by no less a figure than Kerouac musical collaborator David Amram. The CD brings together a range of styles, from hip poetry rants to mystery-cloaked imagery sustained by experimental music; and from be-bop funky jazz riffs to folksy guitar tunes that would make Pete Seeger's beard rise up in song.

SPIRIT: A TRIBUTE TO JACK KEROUAC was released at a gala CD release party in October 2001, with many of the performers on the CD among the standing room only crowd in attendance at the Dove Cafe location where it was recorded live.

As has become a standard feature of nouveau beat gatherings, the nationally prominent Amram generously adopts the role of Kerouac emissary on this product, as well as performing works and backing up a number of poets. From the first piece on the CD, in which Amram intones the now-famous words "back in 1956 I met Jack Kerouac for the very first time in New York City at a bring-your-own-bottle party," to the final cut 22 years later, as the composer and performer does his piano tribute "as long as there's summer rain and early morning fog, this song's for you Jack, this song's for you," Amram's supportive presence on the CD is reason enough to make this release an enjoyable one for Kerouac fans.

As might be anticipated, a compilation tribute like this is wideranging and the breadth of the material is such that it would be hard for everything in it to please everybody. Yet with folk music, jazz, straight up funky poetry in performance, meditative pieces, and more, there is likely to be something in SPIRIT to please most people.

SPIRIT was recorded on the evening of March 10, 2001 at the Dove Cafe in a live event hosted by LCK! member and local journalist Meg Smith, showcasing what was described as "a cross-section of are talent." Among those who appear are singer songerwriter Bob Martin, Kerouac scholars Paul Marion, Rodger Brunelle and Steve Edington, Jim Dunleavy, New Yorker Susan Bennett; and Carradini, the current head of LCK!. Aside from Amram, fine bands such as Cactus Highway and Empty House Cooperative may be heard as well.

Among the numerous fine cuts, Carradini scores a powerful hit with his performance of Ferlinghetti's The Canticle of Jack Kerouac, which rants and soars with plaintive joy. In a more mood-filled piece, he also impresses with his rendering of "Icicle Blue," which effectively sets a blue mood and takes us along with him into unexplored nexus regions. There's a piece for Stella Sampas Kerouac, another for Jack's cats in heaven. A fine French piece "C'est la grande vent," Jack I can hear you, leverages from kicks joy and darkness is read with translations by Roger Brunelle. And a bouncy Susan Bennett produces a winner with her 2:27 a.m. truck stop visit to America, offering up some funky coffee and pie for those who picture Jack on the road across North America.

But fittingly, it is Amram - the CD opens and closes with his words and song, and is liberally infused with his influence - who provides the conclusive anthem for the gathering. "This Song's For You, Jack" sings David - a statement applicable to the entire 22-cut CD.