Monk for a weekend

Monasteries in the UK are out on a serious bit of recruiting. And surely they’re absolutely right to do so. There are so many things in life drowning out God’s voice that those institutions dedicating their life together to listening for God have to tell others that they’re out there. It’s rather like you have to shout aloud to say “there is something other than this noise!”

The news story from the BBC website.

Regular readers of this blog will notice that once again Worth Abbey are in the vanguard of this. They are doing a great service to the Church’s work in this country.

Bye bye Brodie

Brodie’s taking a break from the blogosphere. He’s been one of my regular reads since I started in the spring of 2005 – when I think he commented on one of my early posts. I’m sad, but respect the decision any blogger makes over whether they keep it up. And if you’re one of those on Typepad paying an annual fee, then I can see the disincentive if – like me – you go through periods of bloglessness. I’m fortunate in having some space on a server outthere somewhere to carry this one, whether I use it or not.

But thanks, Brodie, for sharing your experience and your wisdom with us these past years.

I’m noticing a distinct fall-off of activity on some of the key bloggers of the past few years. This may be a healthy sign of a more rounded range of life attention, or it may be the credit crunch, or the past year’s traumas for the Emerging Church, which seems to be going through some major ructions. Perhaps there’s less buzz, less point of focus, or maybe everyone’s turning to their Facebook and Twittering. The Blog, by comparison is a rather pensive, introverted activity. As an extravert, I love Facebook (but don’t have time for Twitter) – lots of fast, networked, minimalist contact with lots of friends. It was wonderful to have a birthday this week and have loads of kind greetings: it made me feel linked up in a way that you don’t get with a blog.

Yet blogs, at their best, are a good way of forcing you to think in public. There’s a dangerous exposure to this, but something about it is, I think, rather good for us. On the other hand, at its worse it can be shallow, ego-centric self-promotion.

All I can say is that Brodie’s blog tended to exhibit the best of blogging for me. I’ll miss it – and Brodie, if you’re reading this – thank you and can you email me your Facebook page please? 😉

Foundation on Small Ritual

Steve Collins has done a write-up of the service put on by Foundation at this year’s Greenbelt on his excellent SmallRitual site. We’ve only just become aware of it (sorry Steve). He’s uploaded some videos of the event, one of which is below. Well done to all co-Foundationeers for all the hard work – sorry I couldn’t be with you this year.

foundation ‘babel’ – free from steve collins on Vimeo.

Anna Maria Jopek and Friends with Pat Metheny

I was first introduced to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny after listening to New Chautauqua in 1979. I have not stopped listening to him ever since, although my enthusiasm has waxed and waned somewhat. The jazz purist in me was somewhat shocked as the Pat Metheny Group developed into a jazz-pop fusion: its rich arrangements and soaring chord-sequences were sometimes bordering on the excessively lush. Yet I have continued to take guilty pleasure in listening to him, especially on long car journeys when I’ve need something really rich to pick me up from the road’s tedium. I still prefer those albums and tracks when he expresses (or returns to) the purity of his roots. His earliest albums (before the era of PMG) remain favourites, including his first, Bright Size Life, Watercolors – with bassist Eberhard Weber, another of my favourite jazz artists. I also very much like Pat Metheny Group, the debut of PMG, and some of their earlier albums, although I find that I easily tire when listening to their later work – it’s uncomfortably close to stadium rock for this jazz-o-phile. Then there are some gems of collaboration (such as Beyond the Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden). Another excellent work of his is the solo album, One quiet night which has a wonderful solo guitar arrangement of Ferry cross the Mersey, as well as a lot more besides.

The biggest find of the month, however, has been his collaboration with Polish jazz singer Anna Maria Jopek on an album called Upojenie. It’s a mixture of Metheny and PMG standards, rearranged by Jopek and friends, but with Metheny still playing guitar. It also includes Jopek’s versions of other Polish songs. I don’t speak Polish, so cannot vouch for the lyrics, but it sounds absolutely delightful. There is still the guilty pleasure at some of the lushness, but there are also some interesting surprises with nu-jazz-esque synthesizer programming mixed-in, so a few new horizons open up. I’m amazed I haven’t come across it before – it was released originally in 2002.

Whatever my inner-jazz-purist may make of Metheny’s work as a whole, one benefit of his willingness to be non-purist in his own approach to the art is that he has opened up some new vistas by these collaborations and helped people like me to discover outstanding potential in artists like Anna Maria Jopek. If you can – go listen.  Oh and of course it goes without saying that he is one of the best jazz guitarists on the planet today.

For those readers of this blog who have yet to discover Last.FM, you don’t know what you’re missing. First, you set-up an account on the website. Then you download the software for your computer – there are good versions available for the Mac, PC and Linux operating systems and, from my observations of the Linux and Mac versions, they work pretty much the same.

Two things then happen: first, whenever you play music using the music player of your choice (in my case, iTunes for the Mac and Amarok for Linux), details of what you are playing are sent to your account on A profile is then built up of your listening tastes. Eventually, is able to construct a “personal radio station” of music which is akin to the stuff you’re playing at home. With time, it can get very accurate – although if you’ve got very catholic taste, such as I do, you may find it can be a bit random in what it plays.

Better still, you can also use the player to play “tags” of certain kinds of music. In particular, I listen a lot to the ECM records tag. This plays a glorious selection of eclectic and innovative musicians, broadly coming out of contemporary jazz who have typically recorded on ECM records at some point. (People such as Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett, Eberhard Weber, and so on.) But you choose your own. When I get tired of listening to my own collection, and want to look for inspiration for new CDs to buy, this is where I get it. If you really like a piece it’s playing to you, you can click on the icon in the tray and it will bring up not only the piece and album details, but link you to Amazon or iTunes where you can order it there and then.

My software is also supplying the data for the ‘currently listening to…’ sidebar on this blog – so it’s a relatively up-to-date feed of what I’m really listening to: warts and all.