Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving & Giving Thanks

As we get older, every Thanksgiving day seems to be more important, more special, and more fretful.  As Americans began to prepare their tables, warnings abound for travelers in this country and around the world.  More than ever, we want to protect those we love, our families, communities, educational institutions, and the environment.  There is not just a "physical" war being waged but most certainly a psychological one.  Technology has become quite the weapon - just the hint of an "attack" sends officials scrambling (as most if us believe it should) with the response from most of us to simply stay put.

But we can't.  Attacks happen at random and, yes, people get hurt and families get scarred which is exactly what the forces of terror want; put people on edge, stall the economy, make it harder to travel.
Terrorist attacks get the headlines but we cannot ignore the dangers in our own towns and cities.  We can not and should not ignore the issues of greed and inequality, of racism, sexism, bullying, of misunderstanding what we read and misstating our positions.

My family laughs when I write and say these things because, while they understand my need for peace, they also realize the myriad roadblocks in our paths.  I still have to believe it and still have to live it.  Otherwise, I can just pull the sheets back over my head and refuse to live.

Enjoy if you can, love because you must, practice "tikkun olam" (healing the world) wherever and whenever you can, and be part of the world in which you live (hard as that may be).

One of the prettier recordings you'll encounter this year (and that's in a year of beautiful music) is "Shelter of Trees" (Kilde Records), the 3rd CD from bassist, composer and arranger Ike Sturm. Composed in honor of the 50 year tradition of jazz at St. Peter's Church in New York City (and the bassist's 10 years of service as the Music Director to the Jazz Ministry to it community), the music is a graceful collections of original melodies, recognizable prayers and new poems that celebrate renewal of the spirit and Sturm's deep faith.  Besides the leader on acoustic and electric basses, the ensemble includes 3 vocalists (Misty Ann Sturm, Chanda Rule, and Melissa Stylianou), pianist Fabian Almazan, alto saxophonist Loren Stillman, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, guitarist Jesse Lewis, and Jared Schonig (drums) plus marimba on 2 tracks by Zaneta Sykes and a children's choir of 4 voice on 1 track.  The arrangements often build from piano and guitar chords plus the hypnotic swirl of sounds from the vibes.  There is a powerful attraction in the quiet sections, one that puts the listener at ease, helping him or her to contemplate the infinite.  The lovely blend of the voices (it's really impressive how they pass the lead around) plus the counterpoint created by Stillman, Almazan, Dingman, and Lewis over the steady push of the rhythm section on pieces such as "Sanctus", "Rejoice" and "Turning Point" offers up a delightful soundscape.
The title track jumps out of the speakers on the strength of Schonig's powerful drumming and the forceful piano chords. After a lovely lead vocal, Stillman and Lewis play impassioned solos over the driving rhythm section.  The harmony in the vocals and the way Dingman wraps his phrases around those lines is quite impressive.

Another highlight is the tender "Family" which builds from acoustic guitar chords to include the occasional ringing high notes  from the vibes.  After the hushed vocal, Lewis steps out on electric guitar over the quiet percussion and vibes.  The songs fades on the guitars and vibraphone.

Yes, there are words on "Shelter of Trees" that are specific to the religion that the composer and his family practices but the message is most assuredly a universal one.  A generous, caring, community, whether religious or secular, can offer us solace in times of darkness purpose in times of madness.  The music of Ike Sturm, interpreted and performed by this excellent ensemble, should bring a sense of calm - even when the musicians turn up the heat (as they do on the closing track, "Psalm 23"), one is never left with a sense of foreboding or unease.  We can get through hard times on the power of our faith and our music.

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