One boring sectarian rant after another—astonishingly leavened and redeemed, at points, by real poetry. Baraka has compiled some 40 eulogies, many of which he delivered in person at memorial services. They celebrate world- famous artists, like Bob Marley and James Baldwin, as well as unsung local heros and heroines, like Joe Landrum, who worked two jobs so that his wife could be a community activist. Many commemorate Baraka's friends or relatives, his sister Kimako, for instance, who was murdered at the age of 48. Most of the figures memorialized here dedicated their lives to the kind of work Baraka admires: resistance to the white domination of US and world culture. Baraka can be tiresome; his Marxist/Leninist tirades against white capitalist imperialism and his exhortations to revolution, relentlessly repeated here, are utterly without originality; they have no literary merit, nor do they lend much insight into the people he is supposed to be eulogizing. Luckily, however, there is more to Baraka's writing than that. He is at his best when writing about jazz musicians. In these pieces his hectoring is transformed into a surreal prose, free-associative, rhythmic, and adventurous, like the noncommercial jazz he loves. Of the musician Don Pullen he says, ``Don spoke in a swirl of pictures. Like the voice of our mother the sky, when she is wet and on fire.'' Celebrating the technique of Miles Davis, he asserts that ``I was with you in that fingering, that slick turn and hang of the whole self and horn.'' Such moments, oases in Baraka's parched polemic, do make the collection a worthwhile read. Listening to Baraka is not unlike listening to music: Bursts of raw, spontaneous improvisation can light up—and begin to transform—even the most overplayed set.
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