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Requiem for Jack Kirby

Gregg Bendian sketches memorable musical scenes from Jack Kirby's legendary comic-book images

*Requiem for Jack Kirby
*By Gregg Bendian's Interzone
*79:07 minutes
*Atavistic
*MSRP: $13.00 CD

Review by Jeff Berkwits

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what's the best way to musically communicate the impact of an image? That's a question jazz percussionist Gregg Bendian attempts to answer on Requiem for Jack Kirby, a provocative CD commemorating the work of pioneering comic-book artist Jack "The King" Kirby. Comprised of seven cuts inspired by Kirby's extraordinary characters and concepts, the album presents a challenging and thought-provoking audio examination of the illustrator's enduring legacy.

Our Pick: A

"Kirby's Fourth World" pays tribute to three of the visual artist's most famous creations—The New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People—all of which were set within a hyperactive dimension dubbed the "Fourth World." Two subsequent tunes, "New Gods" and "The Mother Box," also allude to this imaginative and highly stylized alternate reality. "Teaneck in the Marvel Age" is a more traditional jazz excursion that suggests Bendian's birthplace, Teaneck, N.J., during the 1960s. This was an era when Kirby toiled on such mainstream Marvel titles as The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The X-Men and Thor. Additional numbers include "Primordial Ink," "Air Above Zenn-La" (a reference to the Silver Surfer's idyllic home planet) and "Other Skylines."

The disc's packaging is adorned with various "Fourth World" vistas, including a full-color foldout poster showcasing an expansive Mister Miracle layout. Remarks about Kirby from comics industry luminaries Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, Steve Gerber and Mark Evanier are contained within the liner notes, along with a testimonial regarding the impact on Bendian's musical career of the legendary artist, who died in 1994.

Cuts that cry, "It's clobberin' time!"

In his comments, Bendian attempts to describe Kirby's breathtaking style by citing the artist's "energy blasts and intricate machinery; awesome landscapes, cityscapes and planetscapes [and] his larger-than-life figures, faces and cataclysmic events." Although expressive, these words are listless and dry when compared to the accompanying melodies. The avant-garde jazz themes of Requiem for Jack Kirby—frequently cacophonous, at other times quiet, yet always compelling—superbly capture the force and fervor of the renowned illustrator's output. The music can be demanding and, on rare occasion, even exhausting, but the sounds invariably remain significant and forceful.

Like so many of Kirby's comic-book adventures, "New Gods" opens with a bang—in this case, an eruption of drums and vibraphone—that sets the audio action into motion. Rumbling bass adds an air of overwhelming power and profundity, with wailing tones supplying a sense of devastating sorrow and, near the end of the 14-minute jam, a howling guitar that stridently signals a catastrophic, earth-shattering conflict. Fortunately, in this sonic scenario the good guys win, and the piece concludes with a brief, melodious movement packed—both metaphorically and musically—with positive "vibes." At the same time, the simple yet meticulous rhythms of "Teaneck in the Marvel Age" hint at the freewheeling creativity displayed by Kirby when fashioning relatively ordinary stories, just as the soft gongs and twitchy noises of the supernal "Air Above Zenn-La" encapsulate the metaphysical aspects of his drawings.

The compositions also ingeniously reflect Kirby's eccentric illustrative techniques through unconventional melodic structures and sporadically jarring instrumental juxtapositions. With Requiem for Jack Kirby, Bendian has crafted a truly marvelous and magical musical remembrance of the comic-book industry's undisputed "King."

The musician also clearly owes a debt to Stan Lee's over-the-top writing style. In the liner notes, Bendian is credited with "voracious vibing and cataclysmic composing," while members of the Interzone ensemble provide "polymorphic percussing," "boomtube bassery" and "spectral plectra." Excelsior! — Jeff

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