LEWISTON – Not everyone dresses in black. No one wears a beret. Smoke and booze are nowhere to be found. But jazz, good jazz at that, wafts, dances and vibrates through the intimate setting of The Maple Room on Monday nights. And, it’s free.

An eclectic ensemble of youthful instrumentalists and a weathered and wry poet, who does dress in black by the way, make up the Snow Monks. The group collects itself each week at 7 p.m. at 22 Park St. to find out where their muses will take them on any given Monday. The performances offer a two-part show that features instrumental jazz in the traditional sense and a truly improvisional combination of sound and word.

Maple Room owner and creative director Taylor Mesple said he had been recently fixated with the idea of integrating poetry and music. A random voice mail from poet Gil Helmick, a West Coast transplant who now lives in Portland, via Bailey Island, got the Monday gigs rolling.

“It turns out that the Snow Monks was this wonderful, incredible, existing vehicle that was doing exactly what I was thinking,” said Mesple.

The first set of the Monday night show offers mesmerizing jazz staples randomly chosen, such as Henry Mancini’s “The Days of Wine and Roses,” led by pianist Jesse Lynch. Garbed in a rumpled button-down shirt and gym shorts and propped on his piano seat atop a couple of books, Lynch noodles effortlessly through Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance.”

Across stage, trumpet player Mark Tipton blows the set away with alternately sultry sounds of a muted bell and precisely pitched high notes that flurry with full command of music and instrument. Lynch and Tipton, as true jazz musicians do, converse without words and allow the audience to eavesdrop.

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever heard,” said David Wade, a disc jockey with a jazz program on Portland’s WMPG radio station, about Tipton. “He’s got nice licks.”

Wade, who sounds like and resembles a showered Tom Waits, learned about the Snow Monks after hearing Helmick perform a poetry reading in Portland. Helmick’s fresh collection, “wounded by zen,” was published last year after a long respite from his active poetry days in the ’80s.

“You take two different disciplines and bring them together, and you never know what will happen,” said Wade.

Unpredictable accurately describes the improv portion of the show.Helmick comfortably stands at the mike. He peers through and over his glasses while he reads his words, reads the scant audience and reads the musicians.

“We’re going to bring you a little dark humor, a little jazz, a little bit of truth,” Helmick announces. “And that’s about it.”

Helmick’s delivery has the cool jazz rhythm of Beat, while his words confess a dry cynicism tempered by mellowing years of amused observation.

Bass guitar player Jeff Taylor, who occasionally sits in when cellist Wayne Smith can’t make it, gets into the scene as Helmick’s imagery of rain falling like “tiny dervishes” provokes fretted tangents. Drummer Patrick Barter frequently transports himself into another world of sound produced by electronics or odd objects coming into contact with various parts of his drum set. Lynch and Tipton are pros at bringing the sounds full circle back to the poetry.

“At times, things are harmonious,” said Helmick before a recent performance. “At times, there is meaning in the contrast. And at times, there is dissonance. We build, spread. Everyone’s out there.”



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