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The Columbus-based musician’s portrait of Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton merges newly composed music with archival recordings Merton made alone in his Kentucky hermitage.
Between April 22 and December 31, 1967, Merton recorded a series of musings that reflected his keen interest in current events—an interest that runs counter to many impressions of monastic life. Using the tape recorder as a tool for contemplation and introspection, he touched on subjects including authors Samuel Beckett and Michel Foucault and the 1967 Louisville racial protests.
In Words and Silences, Harnetty thoughtfully sets Merton’s penetrating voice against the backdrop of his five-piece ensemble. There are subtle references to Merton’s favorite music including folk songs, John Coltrane, and Jimmy Smith, as well as Buck Owens and Louis Armstrong. His score for brass and wind instruments simulates Merton’s interest in meditative breathing, while his use of piano reflects Merton’s love of early Kansas City jazz and Boogie-woogie pianists such as Mary Lou Williams. As with his past projects like the Wex-supported Shawnee, Ohio (2016) that pull voices of the past into dialogue with contemporary concerns, here Harnetty connects Merton’s still-relevant words to the isolation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and to demands for racial justice throughout the country.
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