Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sequel of Communion Songs

I enjoy still Frio Suite,the first collaboration by Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy, so when I saw they would release another project together, I was very excited. Both are certainly master craftsmen of their instruments, and the first outing proved to be a tremendous collection.

However, when I first listened to WaterSky, I wondered where the guitars were. Half this duo is one of the greatest guitar players in the world, and I could barely hear what was happening. Sure there were some nice arpeggios and tender effects, but where was the skilled fretwork?

Then I adjusted my chair and found better speakers, and the effect was like getting new ears. Keaggy does play some awesome guitar here, meshing a little better with Johnson's keyboard to create a smoother palette, one suitable for meditation or one's own pursuit of the holy and/or the artistic.

Another fine element to this musical panorama is the percussion and vocal work of keyboardist Jeff Johnson. WaterSky may seem at first to be minimalist with its percussion, but careful listening reveals a sense of a heartbeat in the wilderness waiting on the voice of God.

"When We Were Young" opens the disc with a gentle keyboard melody reminiscent of the No Shadow of Turning, Similtudes, and Born of Water days. Keaggy's guitar on this and other songs reminded me of the classic Wind in the Wheat album. "To Somewhere Else" and the title track follow in these footsteps, segueing wonderfully to create an impression not so much of the ending of one song and the beginning of another, but that attention has been refocused as the undercurrent of spiritual longing remains the same.

Songs like "Air and Light" and "Thermal Dance" are among those where Keaggy's acoustic guitar might seem overshadowed. However, the playing here is more a second layer of beauty, like walking in the woods one way to enjoy the sunrise, only to walk back and take in the sunset.

Two of my favorite songs on this project are "When Cicadas Marched" and "The Cody Incident." In the former, Keaggy plays a unique sounding instrument called a cumbus. On the latter, the duo plays like two haiku masters, bouncing the sharpened melodies off each other in a tune that feels both structured and improvised. Both also change the tune and tempo, like soundtracks for the listener's inner narrative.

"Waltzing By Moonlight" wonderfully closes this set of what I can only call communion songs. Listeners are invited to make their connections to the Creator or the creative force as they understand it, to be still and let the heart and mind do its work or be worked on. WaterSky is not so much a follow up to Frio Suite as it is a sequel for the spirit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Noetic Prayer and Verse

Love's Immensity: Mystics on the Endless LifeLove's Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life by Scott Cairns
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love's Immensity is a wonderful collection of sayings, encouragement, wisdom, and observations from many of Christianity's most influential mystics, all put into accessible and often time powerful verse by Scott Cairns. While some of the poems are a bit prosy for me, the overall collection is delightfully edifying.

Making poems of these wonderful words is certainly more than putting line in breaks in, and Cairns handles the task with the aplomb he puts into crafting his own marvelous verse. These poems are not only quite readable, but they seem to take into account the need to be aware of ones breathing and focus, as they not only discuss, but become part of the noetic prayer of the reader who is open to it. For those outside of religious tradition, I think the poems offer unique insight into the world of the mind and spirit.

I believe I will return to this book several times. For anyone on a spiritual journey, this volume is a fine companion.

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