Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saltman Knowles, Return of the Composer, review by Dennis Brotz, guest author

The legendary author of Slaughterhouse Five, and many other books, Kurt Vonnegut, used to be fond of saying
"The United States of America has come up with only two good new things: Alcoholics Anonymous and jazz."
The first, with it's 12-Step Program now adapted to over 200 different addictions and problems, spiritually awakens even atheists to taste Heaven - and sometimes Beyond - Now. Great art similarly can take even absolute misery and make us experience it as sublime. Or Better. Such is the jazz CD Return of the Composer by Saltman Knowles.

Jazz is quite sophisticated music. So much so that it's usually beyond me. But then I'm lucky if I like one or two new songs a year from any genre. And for me melody is the key. If the melody's not immediately compelling, forget it, I can't pay attention. Occasionally a song can grow on me beyond how it originally strikes me. For example, a first listen to Jewel's Pieces of You album bounced off me almost completely, as did Losing my Religion by R.E.M. and Imagine by John Lennon. Now I more than love them. Songs like Time of the Season by the Zombies and Let's Live for Today by the Grass Roots bowled me over immediately. Now you get my range...

Saltman Knowles members seem to be among some of the most highly credentialed in their genre. Reading their bios is the only way to fully appreciate this. Of relevance to me is the fact that one of Mark Saltman's most striking major influences was Dr. Yusef Lateef, the great American multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator whom Mark met while attending the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Discussions, according to Mark, would involve
"all kinds of things, including music, religion, and politics. He is Muslim and I am Jewish, so we really went into the whole religious thing. It was totally respectful and totally enlightening."
And - more than coincidentally? - at the heart of the Middle East conflict and terrorism today. Lateef also encouraged Mark to find his "own sound within." Wherein the Divine resides. Or, as Christ put it to the Pharisees, who didn't believe in him, "The Kingdom of God comes not with observation. You can't say, 'Look! There it is!' Or, 'Behold! It is there!' For the Kingdom of God is within you." Or, as the old saying goes: "We don't see the world as it is, but as we are." The Greeks claimed the influence of the goddess Muses. Their art then helping us tap into our own Divine Spark within!

Mark is also an educator in the Washington, D.C. schools and likes exploring the relationship between sound and color in the study of Synaesthesia. Cutting-edge stuff at a time when it's being demonstrated that we humans actually have at least 53 senses, and not just the 5 Aristotle named a long long time ago. He also said that a fly had eight legs. And almost no one bothered to check otherwise - to discover they only had 6 - until centuries later... And then, natch, there's the possibility we have a 6th or 7th Sense or Senses. Further information about all this can be found at, describing Project NatureConnect, whose founder Dr. Cohen, claims it's the Grand Unified Field Theory most science claims is as yet undiscovered. William Knowles and the soulful vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm's qualifications also bear deeper investigation and are very relevant, but the main point I'm getting at here is that - whatever the credentials - very little impresses me musically.

Great melody being an absolute requirement to open my Inner Door. And - with the help of other very skilled musicians - that very requirement seems the central bond of the two core members of Saltman Knowles in their
"mutual hunger for melodic content woven within a tapestry of harmonic emotional patterns. It all starts with a singable melody, because without that there is no glue. Then we like to do something that sounds harmonically write things that evoke very strong feelings."
Residing in a lively, culturally rich area of Washington D.C., their last release, It's About the Melody received excellent reviews and won the Best International Jazz song from Toronto Exclusive Magazine in 2007.

Some of the melodies on this album were - how to put it? - Beyond Infinitely Sweet! Far more significant was that within days of just listening to the album once, I experienced a feeling of love or Love in a Divine - or Beyond? - Sense, stronger than any I've felt in my 55 years. Coincidence? The themes on this possible masterpiece very much cut to the very spiritual heart of not only the new millennium, but the timeless. Homeland, for example, is about a longing for a place to call your own where you feel like you belong and can feel comfortable. The concept is more of a spiritual home than a physical one.

The composition Shalom and Salaam, comes from the word "peace" in Hebrew and Arabic. It uses elements from both cultures and almost all of our wishes to find a peaceful settlement to the seemingly unsolvable and extremely dangerous Middle East Conflict. Seeds and Deeds is about the deeds we do today being the seeds for things tomorrow. The Nichiren Buddhist chant "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" means "Devotion to the mystic law of instantaneous simultaneous cause and effect through sound vibration" wherein Awakening and Enlightenment can occur as the Experience of The Heaven Beyond Heaven. Here. Now. In this lifetime. Instant karma gonna get you!

A Pillar of Saltman was written for Mark's dad, Kopi Saltman, who passed away, and while very quiet, always tried to hold firm to his ethics and beliefs. A State of Being wherein - as described by Bill Wilson, entails very special almost immediate Rewards: "When I follow the dictates of a Higher Power, I presently live in a new and wonderful world - that gets increasingly wonderful as time goes on - no matter what my present circumstances". Pain Management is a song for the broken hearted. She ran off with another man. Saltman Knowles renders this so the listener gets a sublime experience, though not necessarily immediately. The smiles of almost outrageous joy on the CD cover reflect a genuine condition of being that the music inside actually creates or elicits in the listener. Sometimes with a delayed-effect.

As our spiritual, emotional, psychological, artistic, and political landscapes unfold and develop - with always some initial growing pain - very painful in many circumstances - into a potential New Golden Age such as humanity has never seen before, perhaps even ushering in a New Heaven and a new Earth, God knows we can use all the Help we can get. Enlightening some of our suffering. And in that sort of suffering, the Buddha informs us, the sufferer leaves. Saltman Knowles' "Return of the Composer" gives Precisely That State of Being - and in this humble listener's opinion - beyond sublimely more, just opens New Eden's door. Nothing more is a chore.

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