Sacred Hymns of G. I. Gurdjieff
Keith Jarrett piano
Recorded March 1980, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The exact date on which George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was born into this world is unknown. This is fitting, for to one who spent his life trying to unravel it, such mundane details would have been unnecessary in the grander scheme of things. Born in Armenia to a Greek father and Armenian mother, Gurdjieff traveled the world in search of fabled monasteries and the secrets they contained. Unlike many before and since, he succeeded. Yet more unlike many before and since, he packed that knowledge into his somatic consciousness until it burst like a supernova. Biographer John Shirley likens the Gurdjieff encounter to a cold shower, “a welcome shock of wakefulness” that leaves its deep, indelible traces in body and soul. Music was the dark matter of his cosmology and operated at the whim of an inarticulable law by which the listener felt compelled to turn oneself inside out, loosing previously bottled emotions into the open stars. Music was vibration, and vibration was life itself. In the hands of an artist like Keith Jarrett, I daresay it becomes something more.
Composed during Gurdjieff’s so-called “second period,” the music on this album arose from a fruitful block of the 1920s, which saw him and Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann together producing a treasure trove of melodies drawn from various folk music traditions and Russian Orthodoxy. The resulting selections are understatedly suited to Jarrett, spun as they seem to be from the kindred methodology behind his own solo improvisations, which construct from the ground down glorious caverns of sound, melody, and spirit. The strains of “Reading Of Sacred Books,” for example, unfold ever so gently, and yet rather than unveiling new territory simply open more and more doors within, each the mirror to a different face of our psyche. Ceremony and despair share the same sky; exaltations and poverty, the same ground. Each of these living moments winds itself like a string around the finger of spiritual forgetting. Jarrett negotiates these stark contrasts, and the connective tissue between them, with unwavering attention. Just listening to the brilliance with which he dialogues the punctuations of “Hymn To The Endless Creator” with the Debussean meditations of “Hymn From A Great Temple” and “The Story Of The Resurrection Of Christ” is wonder in and of itself. “Holy Affirming—Holy Denying—Holy Reconciling” perfectly describes the tripartite process of becoming that Jarrett enacts throughout, leaving us suspended in the final “Meditation.”
From the titles alone, one might think of these pieces as incidental music, when in fact the music is its own ritual, a collection of hymns to itself in a mise-en-abyme of faith. It is a multifaceted jewel of loosely bound energy that finds joy in emptiness. With due assurance and temerity, Jarrett proves it’s not music that is its own religion, but religion that is its own music.