Sep 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm
Photo by John Nation

An offering of love

Honor: opening for the Dalai Lama at the KFC Yum! Center. Bummer: because His Holiness is running late, your 45-minute set gets cut down to 15 minutes. Also, as a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama only listens to spiritual music, shunning all the rest, including your jazz.

For some, this would be a problem, but most people aren’t Dick Sisto. The veteran vibraphonist and radio host also practices spiritual work. A protégé of Thomas Merton, Sisto has been a seeker for decades.

Sisto’s latest album, Engaging Compassion, a duo with pianist Kenny Werner, is comprised of six new songs — three written by each composer — worked up for the event that occurred on May 19. “The gig sometimes dictates the inspiration,” Sisto explains. “There was great inspiration, but at the same time, it was daunting, because I knew I didn’t want to play some straight-ahead jazz.” He checked out Tibetan music on YouTube, learning that there are some exiled Tibetan musicians here “looking more like punk rockers. But, still, very Tibetan. It was very interesting.”

The inspiration flowed, faster than normal, including the album’s opener, “Save Tibet,” which features Sisto playing a talking drum. He recruited Werner because the pianist has a similar interest in meditation, and both men share a love for Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans.

All proceeds from the album go directly to Tibetan nuns to help with housing and meditation space. Discs can be purchased at Heine Bros. Coffee and Rainbow Blossom locations.

Most of it was recorded in a donated studio at the Kentucky Center. Another downtown landmark, the Seelbach Hotel, was Sisto’s musical home for two decades until recently. But now the hotel has brought back Sisto for a limited run on Friday nights in their gorgeous Rathskeller, ending this week. The concerts are free, and Sisto notes that, sonically speaking, more people filling up the room makes the acoustics sound even better.