a Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Ahamad Jamal and Ramsey Lewis kind of Sabbath...

As I work my way through Ted Gioia's insightful book, The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, I am taking the time to listen to key recordings. Not only do I want/need to deepen my grasp and appreciation of the key jazz selections from various styles and eras, but I wanted to make a list of tunes that might be useful in worship once we return. Four are worth sharing today as this Christian Sabbath comes to a close.

First, "Peace" by Horace Silver recorded 56 years ago in the great Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, NJ. Gioia notes that Silver was always a stronger mid-tempo funkster than a balladeer, but this tune is evocative, introspective with just enough space in it to make it right for an extended journey inward. Don't get me wrong, I love to groove-out to "Sister Sadie" or "Song for My Father," but I could see using this on a regular basis (especially if we had some horns.)

Second would be McCoy Tyner's haunting, "Contemplation," that hails from 1967. Tyner wrote this after leaving Coltrane's band and wrote that it "sounds to me like what a man alone might hear as he reflects on what religion - and life - means." This tune has a clear form that provides a foundation for introspection. It is secure enough for significant improvisation, too. And the "theme" at the start and close signal that a journey is starting and then coming to an end. This entire album, The Real McCoy, is filled with powerful spiritual searching

Third has to be Bill Evans' stunning masterpiece: "Peace Piece" from 1958. My friend and colleague at First Church, Carlton Maaia II, turned me on to this for a funeral service we shared last winter - and I have been haunted by it ever since. It is simple, steady, saturated with space and a sense that all is well even while playing way outside the box.  This song embraces both tension and rest, hope and despair, questing and trusting as part of the larger whole. Evans has said that from the first time he "heard" this song within it felt like a person standing alone in NYC. Think about that: surrounded by the city yet absorbed in solitude. Evans only played this song live one time - in 1978 - when it was accompanied by an abstract modern dance. Now wouldn't that be something to bring to worship?

And fourth, my new favorite, Ahmad Jamal's "Saturday Morning" recorded in Paris two years ago. I love the form and gentleness of this tune. Sometimes it feels slightly unpredictable - a bit like living fully alive - but then it always resolves with that great turn around and the bass riff. There is also something circular to me about this song - "All My Life's a Circle" like - which, when you're 83 as Jamal was when this was recorded, makes perfect sense, too. I would want to use this song in worship in some relation to the poem by Catherine Jallon-Barry.

Today I spent the better part of two hours writing out all the minor arpeggios for each of the 12 keys and then practicing them in various positions on the upright bass. That will take up most of my practice time next week, too: playing these arpeggios in their major and minor forms and then writing them out on staff paper. My hope is that by week's end my muscle memory will be better attuned than it was today. Some of those positions are a bitch!

I was up til 3:30 am reading Bruce Cockburn's memoir which is reconnecting me to much of his wonderful music, but that's meant I'[ve been slow moving. So now it is time to get washed and take a stroll in the hood. We may even find a little couscous eatery along the way before calling it a day. Here's another fun rendition from the incomparable Ramsey Lewis (released in 1966) who just released a new album at the sweet age of 80! Damn, but I love these cats...


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