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The hero of this sensational first novel is an alto sax virtuoso of John Coltrane/Sonny Rollins proportions. He also happens to be a walking, talking, philosophizing, Shakespeare- and Blake-quoting, one-woman-loving bear. The scion of a long line of European circus bears (and the product of an amazing roll of the genetic dice), the Bear, when we first meet him, is eking out a living doing an (ugh) street dancing bear act with his friend and keeper Jones. But what the Bear is really best at besides making himself cosmically miserable is blowing the sax. One day he makes a bold foray out to jam with Arthur Blythe and Lester Bowie at a New York club, thus beginning a musical (and romantic) odyssey. A semi-clandestine gig and a live album. A nightclub bust and long dark nights of the soul in the city’s dankest jail cell. Freedom, a recording contract, a road tour. A vexed, physically passionate interspecies love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris. And finally, a triumphant return to a jazz club inside the Brooklyn Bridge, where the Bear plays a solo that blasts him out of the space/time continuum and all the way back home. Lyrical, funny, wildly original, this is the best novel, ursine or human, on the jazz life in decades.