Excerpt from the liner notes to the album lema sabachthani...
This CD reflects my artistic journey over the past 30 years as a musician, composer and improviser. In the liner notes of my last CD, Full Circle, I stated, “I began to see this journey more as a quest, one that is still incomplete and may be realized, completing the circle, during my next project”. In this, my seventh CD, I am looking to close one circle, before breaking off on another creative path.
Beginning in 2007 I began the inevitable task, as one gets older, of examining my career as a musician and it became evident to me that many of my principles toward composition and improvisation were formed at the University of Miami. It was there that I met my composition teacher and small group instructor, Ron Miller. Over time I have developed a writing style utilizing non-traditional Impressionistic harmonies and Romantic based melodies over various styles from straight ahead Jazz, open form – ECM style, free Jazz and avant-chromatic funk. All of which can be heard on this cd, including what are examples of the next phase of writing that I am moving towards, more of a minimalist writing style that I have begun to refer to as “settings for improvisation”.
In 2008 I wanted to write a piece or suite of compositions as a culminating benchmark project that incorporated these concepts, but I lacked a direction or starting point as to where to begin. That summer, while on vacation in Washington, D.C. my wife and I went to the National Gallery. It was here that I first saw Barnett Newman’s, “The Stations of the Cross” and his culminating work, “Be II” in the permanent collection. I could not leave this room. I had found my starting point and direction. Upon returning to New York I spent the next several months involved in research on Barnett Newman and his work, “The Stations of the Cross” and “Be II”. In understanding Mr. Newman’s intent that the Passion is not the terrible walk up the Via Delarosa, but of the final outcry of Jesus – lema sabachthani – Why did you forsake me? The question that has no answer.
By 2009 I had concluded the writing and arranging of the fifteen movements and I reached out to a friend from our days together at Fredonia State and the University of Miami, Jay Bianchi, to produce the album and to play piano and keyboards. Jay assembled a group of musicians in Adam Kolker, Jeff Carney, Ben Gramm and Pete McCann to play and to bring life to this music that for me was both an examination of the last 30 years and as a culminating statement that would allow me to move beyond to new forms of composition and improvisation.
From the book on Barnett Newman by Thomas B. Hess for the Museum of Modern Art, New York he states, “He (Barnett Newman) worked on the Stations for eight years, on and off, using the series as a source for other paintings, and coming back to it as a touchstone. He did the pictures in pairs. Using their conventional titles (whose meanings Newman completely ignored).” Throughout history, the Stations are usually a series of 14 pictures or sculptures. Alternate forms exist that depart from the traditional form by including the Resurrection and in 1991Pope John Paul II introduced a new form of devotion called the Scriptural Way of the Cross. My hope is for the music to speak to you through the works of art by Barnett Newman.
“Christ for Newman in “The Stations of the Cross” is not the Messiah, nor is the Passion a ritual of Fourteen steps on the road to Resurrection. Rather Christ is a man, prototypical man born to suffering. He suffers the torments of the artist, for the first man was an artist and asks God the unanswerable question – lema sabachthani? And God replies, Be! (Thomas B. Hess, Museum of Modern Art, New York)
Bill Stevens, Winter 2012, New York City