Album: Convert Augustine
Thomas Merton was a priest and a Trappist monk. He was also a writer, poet and social activist. He died of an accidental electrocution in 1968 at the age of 53. Why do I mention this in a CD review? Good question. I will get to that in a minute.
First, I want to introduce you to GromKo. GromKo (with a capital K) is Sarah Gromko (without a capital K), Art Hirahana, Danny Sanchez, and Jon Price. They are composer/vocals, keyboards, drums and bass respectively. Together they are a solid jazz quartet who is equally adept at performing original material and standards alike.
GromKo, along with a few friends sitting in, have released a CD called Convert Augustine. This is where Thomas Merton comes back into the story. Merton is credited as co-writer on four of the tracks on this CD along with Sarah Gromko. It might be hard to imagine the intersection of Jazz and Catholicism, but GromKo manages to pull it off. I canít tell if this is good Catholicism, but I can tell you this is good Jazz.
The opening track is traditional, straight-forward Jazz.. You canít get any more traditional than Cole Porterís What is This Thing Called Love. It has been done so often by so many acclaimed artists, it is difficult to find a fresh take, but GromKo brings in elements that are both surprising and seemingly inevitable.
The next track is a Gromko original, Scapegoat. While at first listen, this song might seem all over the place. Subsequent listens expose the threads which run through the piece and hold it together. It is ultimately a satisfying if somewhat confused tapestry.
The third track is where Merton first makes his appearance. Mertonís Prayer (Part 1) is a short a capella interpretation of a part of one of Mertonís prayer. Musically, it seems a bit incongruous compared to the songs preceding and succeeding it, but in the context of the CD as a whole, it finds itself comfortably in its place. Part two on track six is continues the prayer but with a Jazz treatment. Part three on track nine is a multi-tracked choral arrangement. Each piece is different, yet each fits into a greater whole. Together they provide a structure and commonality to the CD.
In between the pieces of Mertonís prayer are Gromko explorations and questions of life, faith and love. The CD concludes with another standard, Eden Ahbezís Nature Boy. This answers the questions posed by the other songs on the CD. Namely, the greatest thing is to love and be loved.
One does not need to be Catholic to appreciate this CD. Iím not and I do. GromKoís Convert Augustine touches on universal themes and does so in musical and interesting manner. More information and song clips can be found at www.gromkomusic.com.