Bass Cathedral by Nathaniel Mackey

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The Great American Jazz Novel by Nathaniel Mackey, winner of the 2006 National Book Award.

Los Angeles, October 1982: Molimo m'Atet, formerly known as the The Mystic Horn Society, is preparing to release its new album Orphic Bend. The members of the jazz ensemble—Aunt Nancy, Djamilaa, Drennette, Lambert, N., and Penguin—are witness to a strange occurrence: while listening to their test pressing, the moment Aunt Nancy's bass solo begins a balloon emerges from the vinyl, bearing a mysterious message: I dreamt you were gone.... Through letters N. writes to a figure called Angel of Dust, the ever-mutating story unfolds, leaving no musician or listener untouched.

Bass Cathedral is Mackey's fourth volume in his ongoing novel with no beginning or end, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Thought balloons morph into mute-stereoptic emanations; N. encounters a master mouthpiece-maker; Drennette leaves Penguin dateless; Lambert's kicking it around with Melanie—much is abuzz but something else is happening to the ensemble. The music seems to be living them. N. suffers cowrie shell attacks and they are all stranded on an Orphic Shore. Socio-political forces are at play or has this always been the essence and accident of the music's resilience? And Hotel Didjeridoo must be resurrected, but how? Myth spins music spins thought spins sex—Mackey's post-bop boxless box set is, as the Utne Reader wrote, "Avant-garde literature you can love: an evolving multivolume novel of the jazz world that plays with language and ideas the way Thelonious Monk plays with flatted fifths."


About Nathaniel Mackey

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Nathaniel Mackey (b. 1942), is the author of books of poetry, fiction, and criticism, editor of the Literary Jounal Hambone, and radio show host. His collection, Splay Anthem, won the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry. He is also on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets, and is Professor of Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Published January 17, 2008 by New Directions. 183 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Bass Cathedral

The New York Times

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Nearly a century after jazz emerged as a musical form with profound cultural resonance, the jazz novel, like the theater of the absurd and radio drama, seems an archaism, a good subject for a third-year undergraduate elective or a Bravo documentary.

Feb 24 2008 | Read Full Review of Bass Cathedral

Publishers Weekly

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In the fourth installment of this National Book Award–winning poet and novelist’s ongoing epistolary work of fiction, Mackey (Splay Anthem ) is never shy of the unwieldy or the recondite, plunging readers into the heady thoughts of N., narrating letter writer and member of the fictional early ’80...

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Project MUSE

Early in this latest installment of Nathaniel Mackey's serial fiction, one of its recurring characters, Lambert, does a dance that is described as endlessly bordering on imbalance.

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