It’s no news that Eastern beliefs and America’s classical music can work together. John Coltrane proved it with his 1965 album Om and, to a great extent, A Love Supreme. The World Festival of Sacred Music at the Wayfarers Chapel brings to light a genre that is often underexposed in our circles – sacred jazz. This is a world festival indeed: after all, it’s Buddhist meditation music and jazz being played at a Christian church.
For those of us who are geographically challenged, Java is the most populous island of Indonesia, in the southwestern part of the country which is flanked by the Indian and Pacific Oceans and smack dab in between Asia and Australia, making it a hotbed of cultural innovation (and not just coffee). Indonesia already has a substantial jazz community, with the Java Jazz Festival and artists like Otti Jamalus and Dwiki Dharmawan. In addition to this, there are artists who take jazz and meditation music and play them together in an outright manner, such as guitarist Rob Levit and singer/dancer Emiko Saraswati Susilo, who have partnered up to create the group Asmarandana, an exploration of the commonalities between Javanese classical music and the blues.
The two music types share a world of commonalities, so to speak. Both involve improvisation, chromatic movements, altered tempos, call and response, chordal instruments used as percussion, etc. Then again, you can find similarities between any two genres that seem radically different – after all, human ears are drawn towards the same things for a reason. But Susilo and Levit really make it work, turning Javanese poetic song into jazz and vice versa. Levit’s virtuosic sounds go perfectly well with Susilo’s melancholy, lilting voice, reaching chordal ranges that are truly haunting.
The World Festival of Sacred Music was started 1999 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to promote peace with the approach of the new millennium and to appreciate the beauty of religious music all over the world. It is held every three years in the Los Angeles area, with music ranging from Sephardic Jewish to Cuban Yoruba traditions. This year, the festival will continue from October 1 to October 16, moving from one historical Los Angeles landmark to another. Next Wednesday’s featured performers will be a collaborative group called Deep Listening, which includes Levit and Susilo, as well as flutist Suzanne Teng and percussionist Gilbert Levy, both members of the band Mystic Journey which also seeks to blend jazz with Eastern sacred music. The four will perform in a program of Asian, African, and Middle-Eastern fusion.
Deep Listening will be performing on October 4 at 7:30 pm at Wayfarers Chapel, the beautiful glass church nestled deep in the wooded mountains of Palos Verdes. To be more specific, it is located at 5755 Palos Verdes Drive South in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275. Tickets are $20 donations; call (310) 377-1650 (ext. 2) to reserve a spot and visit http://www.wayfarerschapel.org/your-visit/location-and-map for a map and directions. You can also find more information at http://www.visitlongbeach.com/calendar/index.cfm?eventid=5192.