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Forty Days: Anguish and intensity… - Ed Jewett - 15-05-2011

Jul 14 2006, 09:03 PM (an old blog entry of mine)

I am sitting here on a Friday night listening to my favorite piece of music… actually, three different renditions of it.

Why it's my favorite is a long story I won't tell here, but the music never fails to catch my attention, to speak to me, to move me. The crisp, sometimes thundering, sometimes achingly bittersweet piano, the Near Eastern flavor of the cymbals, the raw tenderness of the quietitudes and the soul-thrashing percussion, the battling flats and sharps… I have done impromptu interpretative dance to it (thankfully for you, there is no video available). And I have prayed with it. Sometimes prayer and dance are the same thing.

Tonight, off on the far horizon of the world, the Israelis and the Christians and the Muslims are doing their level-headed best to kill each other… Hezbollah and Mossad and Hamas and Iranians and Syrians and Lebanese.. no doubt there are a handful of Egyptians, Jordanians, and others… and the rest of the world watches, wonders and waits. Sitting back in the comfort of global distance are the purveyors of the New American Century who, with their friends the money-changers, plot like Pharisees of war. As others have noted, the table has been set for a long and quite possibly cataclysmic encounter between the nations and religions of the globe. As consumers of "news" and the force-fed diplomacy of power and hatred, we can only wait for the next headline.

The music first went public back in 1965, on the now-immortal Time In album. Its composer described it 40 years ago as a work in progress that he hesitatingly put forth to the world. It was part of a 30-minute liturgical composition called The Light in the Wilderness written by this student of Darius Milhaud in his signature signature of 5/4. The liner notes mention the subtle integration of loneliness and quiet simplicity of the piano over the under-pulse of bass and a double-time drum beat with languid interludes of a saxophone. The theme of the piece is Christ's time in the wilderness.

As time went on, the song became one of the composer's "most frequently recorded works". The composer said "he wanted to get the feeling of desert into the music." I re-discovered it years later when another longer and different rendition appeared in the composer's career retrospective 4-CD set Time Signatures. A third version showed up in 2005 on the TelArc recording London Flat, London Sharp. "The anguish and intensity … are reflected with particular acuity" in the solo by saxophonist Bobby Millitello.

The composer, the great Dave Brubeck (now widely honored in the final days of his career and life), once a musical goodwill ambassador for the State Department, was honored in November 2004 with a doctorate in sacred theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.