Friday, July 06, 2007

Bookmarks for June 2007

Have done more reading that these two reviews show, but much of it has been a poem here or story there in books I might be reviewing next time. Enjoy.

Despite its flaws, Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz (2003) should be required reading for every Christian. Non-believers might also find this book refreshing and interesting. The book is a loose memoir of Miller's spiritual journey from a young child whose images of God are formed by a father who has left him through fundamentalist Christianity to what he often refers to as Christian Spirituality. Perhaps the word "journey" is a misnomer, since what Miller accurately details is that spiritual life is not a journey with an end. Sure, he finds answers, but they don't become the crux of theology he can force on others, but only share as one shares other experiences.

I found Miller's stories fascinating, funny, and touching. Miller appears to be striving for something real in all the religious rhetoric, something that changes lives and gives them strength. His various tales are really inspiring and challenging in the way honest reflections about God must be.

The book is not perfect. Relying so much on one's experiences with God can make one's theology a bit suspect. But there is nothing out of traditional orthodoxy here if one considers that God is one that meets us on the road, whereever we are, really to shape us from whatever state we come to Him in. I believe in a God that is more interesting in our hearts being honest before Him than in "getting it right." Blue Like Jazz book that focuses on the love God has for his creation and not on sqashing sinners (especially "sinners" as defined by humans). This is not to say the book is all "God loves you and nothing is wrong." In witnessing Miller's challenges one might be forced to recognize that change is necessary for all of us. However, painful or difficult this change, there is a God who will leave us, a Savior always willing to love even the most unlovable of us.

The City in Which I Love You (1990) is Li-Young Lee's second book of poems. Here Lee combines childhood memory with (then) present images of a family struggling with the past and with death. One gets the sense that the child who could not make complete sense of events as they happened is still unable to fit all the pieces together, but must render those images and anecdotes, must make the attempt to understand them. The language here is beautiful, carefully wrought. There is plenty of emotion, but no maudlin sentimentality, no "woe is me." Lee presents these pictures and stories and allows the reader to either identify with them or to listen as one would to a friend healing.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Music Notes for June 2007

Have listened to a lot of good stuff recently, but haven't had much chance to write. The review of the Metheny-Mehldau disc first appeared on iTunes (under the name Blue Monk) after some wrangling about them messing up the info on the disc at first. I tried to post the review of the Stryker/Slagle disc first at Blogcritics. However, I had trouble getting it posted, and the editor will not respond to my queries, so it is going to have to be first here.

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau: Quartet. This is a new and fresh recording from the same sessions that brought us the first (mostly duets) album. Some might find that some of these songs are similar to PMG recordings, minus the lush arrangements, Latin percussion, and occasional vocalese. But listen close and you’ll find some significant differences. A couple of tunes feature some little guitar crunches and nuances from Metheny you won’t likely hear on the group’s recordings. "A Night Away" starts the disc off right with a groove. "The Sound of Water" seems to use the Pikasso guitar in a way that builds nicely from "Into the Dream" from Imaginary Day. "Fear and Trembling" and "Toward the Light" take some risks, but they pay off. On some tunes, Metheny uses the synth guitar in tasty doses where one might find a good horn solo. Mehldau does not just accompany either. He jams along with Metheny as if they have been playing together for 20 years instead of just admiring each other’s playing from a distance as they had. At first I was put off that they put a couple quartet pieces on the first disc and a handful of duets on this one. But both sets work together naturally. Get this one.

The Stryker/Slagle Band: Latest Outlook. If you went into a nice restaurant or club and as you ate your meal or chatted with friends, you heard The Stryker/Slagle Band playing the tunes from Latest Outlook, you might leave thinking that the "music was nice. What was that group again?" All this is to say that I think Latest Outlook gives me some mixed feelings. This is real jazz, played well, and it all sounds good. Most songs wouldn’t upset those who prefer their music as wallpaper. But I’m not sure it will knock the socks off the hardcore fan. Read the entire review whenever they get around to posting it at Blogcritics.
I've also been listening a lot lately to both of Keith Jarrett's most recent cds of improved music, Radience and The Carnegie Hall Concert. I first heard the latter in a special broadcast on KNTU the day of its release. The was one of the most enjoyable concerts I've ever heard. I suspect this might rival the magnificent and legendary Koln Concert. Radience was also delightful to hear. Jarrett has said that in interviews that the tunes on these projects are shorter because he now has a stronger sense of when a song is coming to an end. I hope these disc do earn him a stronger fan base among those who have no knowledge of his work. Listen well and I think you'll see why Jarrett is my favorite pianist.

A couple weeks ago, I got to see the Bill Frisell Trio outside the Dallas Museum of Art. The group was in fine form, playing tunes mostly from Frisell's vast repetoire of originals and unique takes on standard pop and jazz tunes. A highlight for the crowd seems to have been Frisell's version of "What the World Needs Now." My wife and I were particularly taken by his version of "Shenendoah." I loved everything: the loops, the distortion, the odd seques between songs. Frisell has great chops and wonderfully incorporates playing from many different styles. His band of Tony Scherr on bass and Kenny Wollesen at the drum kit was fun to watch (well, I couldn't always see Scherr), appearing to be having a lot of fun hanging out with the master musician. I would like to have heard Frisell play more than one guitar during the evening. Since he is so good, one or two accoustic numbers might have been great. However, he did a lot more with that one guitar than many could have done with a dozen. I was also a little put off that Frisell didn't face the audience much, but I understand he is notoriously shy. And since he didn't talk very much, he did leave more room for great music. The avant garde style did send a few fans away fairly early, but I think they missed a great opportunity to see a terrific performing making fascinating music.

I also saw the Jonas Brothers in concert some time ago. As any of my friends and family can attest, this is not my cup of tea. But I took the girls and they had a good time. They played
a mix of selections of tunes from their first album and their (then) upcoming second (which they mentioned about eight times in a set that lasted just over an hour. I can say that it was fun to watch them, though the songs are pretty much the same kind of thing that is popular on Radio Disney, who (surprise!) sponsored the show.