Brian Harnetty: Words and Silences (Winesap/digital outlets)

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Brian Harnetty: Words and Silences (Winesap/digital outlets)

Another album at Elsewhere which we freely concede with not be for everyone.

But if you've ever heard those whimsically philosophical/Zen readings by John Cage, have enjoyed solo piano, ambient music, bird song and/or spoken word readings, then this thoughtful 49-year old American interdisciplinary writer/researcher/musician and sound artist might just have considerable appeal.

Here Harnetty explores writings and readings by the Cistercian monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915-68) through Merton's own sound archive and journals, with Harnetty's brass and wind group provide elegantly poised settings for the readings.

Merton was a fascinating intellect who explored, among many other things, the writings of Michel Foucault in Madness And Civilisation: “Nowhere preaches anything,” he says of the book. “Rather, [it] lets the material speak for itself. The salutary effect on me is to see suddenly how partial and how limited my own preachments are, my own temptations to say that such and such a thing is the cause of such and such a phenomenon, and this is right and this is wrong, and so forth. It is polarizing. It’s a very limited . . .”

He also looked closely into the work of the Sufi poet/philosopher Ibn al Arabi and recorded his own responses to him (and other) writers.

There is something of Gary SnyderZen and the USA Beat poets here too, as on Merton's A Hawk Flew Fast Away, written on Pentecost Sunday, May 1967.

“lightning, thunder, and rain on and off all night, and now at dawn there is still more of it. The lovely grey-green valley, misty clouds, sweeping low over the hills and the forest out there in the south. Iron dark clouds heavy above them. The rainy gloom full of pale yellow iris, and the cloudy white blossoming green massing of the road hedge. I went out a while ago and a hawk flew fast away [thunder heard].

“ It has been waiting on the cross or in the big poplar tree.”

But this is also casually intimate as Merton talked directly into his tape recorder to whatever audience might listen, as on New Year's Eve Party Of One where he speaks of listening to New Orleans pianist Mary Lou Williams on record by himself.

Screen_Shot_2022_11_25_at_4.30.56_PMThe second half here is all the instrumental backdrops which Harnetty's ensemble provided behind Merton's voice in the first half.

Yes, not for everyone but in this world of haste – especially in these harassing times in the lead-up to the shopping frenzy that is Christmas (too much religion, not enough commercialisation for you?).

But maybe this is the reflective wind-down for late evening listening when you can take time to think about your values and the demands the 21st century places on you and yours?

Take the pause this offers.


You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here

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