Sunday, November 6, 2011

Learning To Riff

As I write this, I am listening to Keith Jarrett, one of my favorite jazz pianists. It is a solo album, just him playing old standards from the American songbook – some Gershwin  mixed in with Ellington, salted with a couple of traditional melodies and original compositions. It is a gentle, lyrical album of great beauty, evoking an emotional scenery that is refreshing and nourishing to the soul. One of the reasons I like Jarrett’s work is his remarkable ability, having played a simple melody, to explode in a lightning fast riff the second time through – and then run down a completely different road the third time, exploring every rabbit trail down which the music leads him. One song can stretch to ten or twelve minutes without getting lost or dumping the listener in the deep weeds. But this album is different. His riffs, his improvisations, his musical comments on the melody he has played are much more restrained and keep tightly to the flavor and tone of the original. It is almost as if he is commenting on the melody, gently suggesting this variation or that all the while honoring the creative vision of the original.

I play this disc often. It is one of the ones that helps restore my soul. My soul is nourished by the space, texture, beauty, and depth of the simple, unadorned delicacy. I have no knowledge of Jarrett’s faith or belief. But, in his music, I hear the gentle refrains of glory. A person does not have to be a believer to have his heart tuned to the wonders. God has put into each of his human creation a sense of eternity – some are able to speak it out in their art. The best are able to shape and frame and respond to it in ways that suggest hints of what might lie just around the corner of what they see and hear. Great music is a snapshot of eternity, carrying the emotion, the thought, the presence of the grand space from which it came.

Such great music is an invitation to soak in the depths of the near universe represented in the music all around me. The laugh of a child, the gurgle of a small waterfall, the iridescence of a primrose, the just there fragrance of a lily and the riotous, overwhelming plumeria, the rough texture of the oak or the paper smooth birch . . . all, all, all give glory to God! All sing to the heavens and invite us to join in with our own riffs – commenting, suggesting, agreeing, reminding, joining in the laughter and song. What wonder is all around us – the music of spheres. This is my Father’s world! Even those who don’t fully know Him as Father still can not help but celebrate the gift.

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