Jazz Factory does some ‘Soul Searching’ with Dick Sisto

Apr 24, 2007 at 7:41 pm

Dick Sisto
Dick Sisto
The Jazz Factory’s Derby Week festivities keep rolling with a CD release party in honor of Dick Sisto’s new album, Soul Searching, which was used in part as the jazz score for the recent Thomas Merton documentary of the same title by Morgan Atkinson.

Sisto is a widely known quantity in these parts, a top-drawer vibraphonist who also plays piano and drums. For many years now he has been the musical director for the Seelbach Jazz Bar and, in that capacity, he’s performed with or sponsored musicians such as Lynne Arriale, John Abercrombie, Dave Liebman and many others. For this recording he enlisted guitarist Bobby Broom, trumpeter Barry Ries, bassists Dennis Irwin and Jim Anderson and his regular drummer, Mike Hyman.

Soul Searching was recorded during two sessions here in Louisville last May and July. It is produced by John Timmons, who owns the ear X-tacy record store and will release Sisto’s CD on his ear X-tacy label.

The CD features seven compositions and one collective piece by Sisto, and fellow musicians Ries, Anderson and Hyman, and compositions by jazz greats Kenny Dorham, Thelonious Monk and Kenny Kirkland. Both the DVD, titled “Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton,” and the CD are now available.

In an e-mail interview, Sisto elaborated on how he got involved with the music for the Merton documentary: “I was approached by filmmaker Morgan Atkinson to create a soundtrack for the documentary. It consists of original jazz compositions and chosen short excerpts from Mahler’s Fifth, Gregorian Chant, Japanese Shakuhachi and original percussion pieces played on my assortment of Baliphone (or balafon), thumb pianos, gongs, talking drums, shakers, etc.”

Sisto also discussed the compositional process: “There are specific pieces written for each phase of Merton’s life. For example, during his early college years, the pieces reflected his love for live jazz and for a rather hedonistic lifestyle. Later, after he became a monk, the pieces reflect a more contemplative lifestyle and therefore become more impressionistic. Since he was such an erudite person, I paid a great deal of attention to harmonic and melodic development. The piece ‘Summer of Love’ was written specifically for his late love affair, which has musical elements of angst, passion, the blues and melancholy in it.”

The CD’s opener, Sisto’s “Boppy,” lives up to its title, sounding like a lost swinger from the late 1950s or early ’60s. Broom’s “Like a Mist” is next and has a laid-back Brazilian feel to it. “Earth Lament,” a pretty ballad, is next, after which his “12 Steps” takes a (Thelonious) Monk-ish turn. Sisto’s “The Path” is an atmospheric piece featuring Ries soloing over very subtle vibes. Dorham’s ballad, “La Mesha,” allows Hyman a chance to demonstrate his brushwork, and is followed by Sisto’s “Love Grows Deep,” a mid-tempo, understated piece.

“Summer of Love” brings Ries back for a lovely ballad, while Monk’s “Work” swings hard and features a bass solo by Irwin. “Protest Four Freedom” is the collaborative piece, and sounds like the experimental work of Bobby Hutcherson from the mid-’60s. Kirkland’s “Chance” is a reflective vibes/bass (also Irwin) duet, and the album closes with the upbeat feel of Sisto’s “New Water.” The disc is already drawing well-deserved accolades from the likes of John LaBarbera and Harry Pickens.

For the Jazz Factory performances, Sisto will be joined by Boston-based Ries, Cincinnati bassist Anderson and Louisville drummer Hyman, all of whom are on the CD. Chicago-based Broom is touring with Sonny Rollins, and he recommended fellow Chicago guitarist Alejandro Urzagaste for these shows.

The following afternoon, there’s a special Sunday Brunch performance. It starts at 1 p.m. and includes a screening of the film. Reservations are suggested.

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