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MP3 Deanna Witkowski - From This Place

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Let My Prayer Rise (Psalm 141)
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I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
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From This Place
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Evening Mass
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Evening Mass
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Evening Mass
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Evening Mass
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O, the Deep, Deep Love
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Christ the Light
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Never Before
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Make Your Wonders Known
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Pass Me Not
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Keep in Mind
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Take My Life and Let It Be
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Song of Simeon
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(ID 6619879)
Ancient and modern sacred texts are married with the richness of jazz in this honest and soulful release from the acclaimed New York pianist/vocalist/composer.

15 MP3 Songs in this album (59:08) !
Related styles: SPIRITUAL: Scriptures, JAZZ: Jazz Vocals

featuring Donny McCaslin, tenor and soprano sax; John Patitucci, acoustic and electric bass; and Scott Latzky, drums
with guest vocalists Laila Biali, Peter Eldridge, and Kate McGarry

From the disc's liner notes:

As I write in early December 2008, the Christian church is observing Advent, the first season of the annual liturgical calendar. Advent, according to one dictionary, means an âarrival that has been awaited (especially of something momentous).â This recording, my fourth as a leader and my first focusing specifically on sacred music, is something that I have wanted to make for over seven years.

I want to clarify at the outset that I view all music as sacred, if it is made with intent to heal, uplift, and rejuvenate spirits. One unique aspect of From This Place is its focus on text: from nineteenth-century poets, scripture, the Mass, and occasionally, my original verses. My journey towards creating this music and working with text had its impetus in a move from Chicago to New York City eleven years ago.

I arrived in New York having accepted a fulltime position as music director of All Angelsâ Church on Manhattanâs Upper West Side. During my tenure at All Angelsâ, I composed the genesis of two jazz masses (one present here) and wrote musical resettings of old hymn texts (I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, Pass Me Not, Take My Life and Let It Be) as well as occasional lyrics and music (Never Before). I found that I loved having a service for which I could write new settings of text that was either said or sung each week. It reminded me of Bachâs time, when the church was a patron of the arts.

In 2000, several months after I left All Angelsâ, I started to wonder if the music I had composed for services could be used in other houses of worship. I began to build relationships with churches in the hopes that, in addition to playing my instrumental jazz in more traditional jazz venues, I could present my sacred music in the context of worship.

To my delight, in every church in which I have performed, both regular churchgoers and clergy have responded with resounding support. I feel that I am in the company of Mary Lou Williams, the innovative pianist/composer who wrote liturgical jazz in her later decades and brought her music to churches and schools all over the country. To see myself in a tradition and yet breaking new ground is awe-inspiring and also a bit scary at times. But the fact that so many people have shared with me how this music has impacted the way they experience centuries-old text, much of which they may have heard or spoken week in and week out for years (or never heard at all), has confirmed that I am on a right path. I invite you to join me in this place where old and new converge to remind us that hope does indeed exist, even in times of fear or uncertainty.

Background notes on the individual pieces:

Let My Prayer Rise is the first of three pieces on this recording that have texts often used at evening services, and which speak of light and darkness or the close of the day. The text of Let My Prayer Rise directly quotes the Psalms.

The text of I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say was written by Scottish poet Horatius Bonar in 1846. The sense of rest and surrender in the imagery is central to my resetting, and to the quartetâs interaction.

The title track, From This Place, was written for an Easter jazz vespers at New Yorkâs Saint Peterâs Church in 2007. One reading at the vespers told the account of Mary Magdalene, one of Christâs followers, who visits his tomb to anoint him three days after his death. The New Testament story describes Maryâs arrival at the tomb only to find that Christâs body is no longer there. In fear, she asks a gardener if he has taken the body. The gardener replies by speaking Maryâs name, and she recognizes him as the risen Christ. The lyrics reflect my own meditation on Maryâs emotional landscape during this tumultuous day, from the moment she wakes in the morning to her epiphany at the empty tomb.

The next four tracks, Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, are all part of my Evening Mass, begun in 1999 for the evening service at All Angelsâ Church. Both the Gloria and Agnus Dei are enhanced by four-part harmony with guest vocalists Laila Biali, Kate McGarry, and Peter Eldridge.

The hymn tune of O, the Deep, Deep Love (commonly known in hymnal indexes as Ebenezer, or Ton-y-Botel) was written by Welsh composer Thomas J. Williams in 1890. Though several different texts have been set to Williamsâ tune, the one that informed my arrangement was written in 1875 by Samuel Francis. Francisâ text speaks of the love of God as an ocean that is all around us, free and deep and always moving.

Christ the Light (Phos Hilaron) is an ancient Christian hymn that often appears in evening services during the lighting of candles. My setting brings a joyous shuffle feel to this text that welcomes light into the darkness of evening.

In the traditional service of lessons and carols, each passage of scripture is followed by a musical response. The three-part womenâs a cappella piece Never Before was composed for just such a service at All Angelsâ in 1999, as a response to the story in which an angel announces to Mary that she will bear the Christ child. Laila Biali and Kate McGarry join me in this meditation.

The only solo piece contained here, Make Your Wonders Known is loosely based on the twelfth verse of Psalm 88, which reads, "Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?" The piece is a simple prayer asking for attentiveness to the wonders that are around all of us each day.

The American hymn writer Fanny Crosby wrote one of her most beloved texts, Pass Me Not, in 1868. The solo piano introduction uses the original tune by William H. Doane before segueing into my resetting.

The text for Keep in Mind comes from twentieth-century hymn writer Erik Routleyâs paraphrase of an excerpt from one of Saint Paulâs letters. The four-part harmony, electric bass solo, and tambourine (thanks, Scott!) are guaranteed to get some hands clapping.

English poet Frances Havergal penned her best known text, Take My Life and Let It Be, in 1874. The words offer a prayer of complete surrender to God, almost addressing God as a lover.

Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) is a New Testament canticle from the second chapter of Luke. Simeon was a devout follower of God who had been promised that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When he sees the Christ child in the temple, Simeon recognizes him as the promised one, takes him in his arms, and utters these words of praise.

-Deanna Witkowski

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